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Slacker Radio Review

Listen to millions of songs and create your own personalized radio stations

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Slacker Internet Radio Service

Slacker Internet Radio Service

Image © Slacker, Inc.

The Idea Behind Slacker Radio

Slacker is an Internet Radio service that primarily delivers streaming music in a style similar to traditional radio -- where the emphasis is on music presented by real people. In fact, you'll hear intros by professional DJs on most stations -- but, unlike traditional radio, you can conveniently mute the DJ via Slacker's settings! The major difference that sets this service apart is in how the service is all put together -- the pre-compiled stations (presently over 100 of them) are all hand crafted by professional DJs. The company says that unlike many services out there that just provide you with a huge library and very little guidance, their service is designed to make finding the music you want far easier. Slacker is also a personal radio platform (similar to Pandora Radio and others) which means that you can shape your listening experience by interacting with Slacker's user interface to create your own customized stations. However, with fierce competition from other streaming music services, is Slacker the one you should choose? To find out more on what this service has to offer, read our full review that cuts to the bone.

The Lowdown

Pros:

  • Highly polished Internet radio service with smart user-friendly interface
  • Wide range of professionally compiled radio stations. Ability to create your own custom stations too.
  • Unlimited on-demand music via subscription.
  • Music streams are good quality and uninterrupted.
  • Stellar collection of mobile music apps (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Phone 7, Symbian).
  • Good integration with popular social networking platforms (Facebook / Twitter / MySpace).

Cons:

  • Slacker Radio is only available in the United States and Canada.
  • Free account has a 6-song skip limit for every station per hour / songs are ad-supported.
  • No facility to skip back to a previously played track.

Music Service Options

Main Slacker Radio Screen

Main Slacker Radio Screen

Image © Mark Harris - Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Slacker Basic Radio
If there's one thing that can put you off big time when trying out a new music service, it's having to pay a subscription right from the start. Thankfully this isn't the case with Slacker Radio -- you can sign up to their free Slacker Basic Radio account which allows you to test drive the service without any financial risks. Signing up is very straight forward and there are enough available features to try out without it feeling too crippled. The first bit of good news is that unlike some music services, there isn't a limit on how much you can stream. However, there is a maximum skip limit of 6 songs in a station per hour. If you reach this limit, you have to switch to another station -- or upgrade to a subscription where there are no limits.

Just like Slacker's subscription options (see below), the basic account allows you to stream music from pre-programmed radio stations, or create your own custom ones from the music you have discovered along the way. However, as with most online music services that offer a free account, the music played comes with advertisements. This limitation is probably the first thing you will notice using Slacker Basic Radio. The level of ads is comparable with other music services out there that offer a free account -- Spotify and MOG are two examples that do this, although MOG is slightly more generous in this respect by offering an ad-free period for the first 60 days. That said, Slacker Radio's free account doesn't require you to continually earn music listening credits like you have to do with MOG's virtual gas tank for example.

While discovering new music, you can view album art, read an artist's biography, along with personalizing your listening experience by adding individual songs to your favorites list. If you really hate a song in a station, you can hit the ban button so it never plays again! You can also use social networking tools to share your discoveries. Currently you can use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or even share your custom radio stations via email by using a special Slacker Radio URL.

An impressive feature which isn't normally associated with a free account is being able to listen to Slacker Radio using your mobile device. Even with Slacker Basic Radio, you can listen to streaming music on the move by using one of Slacker's free apps. There's quite a few mobile apps to choose from that cover various operating systems such as iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and others. This included feature for the free account certainly deserves a thumbs up!

There's also support for a few home systems too like: Sony Internet-ready devices; Acoustic Research Infinite Radio; Sonos Wireless Hi-Fi System, and Logitech Squeezebox products.

Slacker Radio Plus
If you fancy a step up from the free Slacker basic account, then the first subscription tier to take a look at is called Slacker Radio Plus. By subscribing, you will be able to listen to an unlimited amount of streaming music without having to listen to the (sometimes) annoying advertisements that come with Slacker's basic radio account. Another great plus is that you will also have the luxury of clicking the skip button as many times as you wish. As previously mentioned, the free account restricts you to a maximum of 6 song skips per station in one hour and so subscribing is certainly worth doing if you find that you hit this limit on a regular basis.

However, you can't replay the same song in a station (just like the basic account) -- this can be annoying when you want to listen to the same song twice but don't necessarily want to add it to your favorites list. If this is a priority of yours, then you will have to pay a subscription to Slacker's Premium Radio level or look for an alternative service.

Paying a monthly subscription also gets you other added benefits not seen with the basic radio level such as complete song lyrics rather than partial ones, and the facility to use something called Mobile Station Caching. This is a handy feature that allows you to store thousands of songs in your mobile device's memory card without having to stream songs all the time.

Slacker Radio Plus also provides enhanced programming like ABC News and ESPN radio stations. With ABC News you can catch up on the latest reports on US and world news, entertainment, sports, etc. You can also use a special programming feature called MyABC News where you can cherry pick exactly what topics you want to hear news on. With the ESPN radio station you can either tune into the full ESPN Radio news service or use the MyESPN Radio (Sport) or MyESPN Radio (Show) channels to choose and prioritize what you want to listen to.

Slacker Premium Radio
The problem with Internet radio is that you can't usually replay the same song in a station -- a bit like traditional radio in fact where the DJ plays a sequence of tracks over the airwaves. This on-demand facility is therefore normally only available if you opt for a streaming music service. However, with Slacker's Premium Radio subscription you can have it all. This top level account comes with a lot of on-demand features which maximizes Slacker Radio's usefulness as an online music resource.

If you want the freedom to access any song in Slacker's music library, and play it multiple times, then this subscription level is a must. We found that searching for an artist, song, or album was easy to do and yielded good results. Another plus with using this subscription level is that you can listen to complete albums from a particular artist or band that you are interested in. This really does make using Slacker Radio a whole lot more flexible when you want to concentrate on music specifics. There's also the option to listen to a dedicated station on a band or artist rather than a mix of similar ones.

For more even more granular control, the premium account also adds in the power of playlists. Instead of working with stations, you can compile custom playlists and change the order of the songs to be played. For music on the move, an impressive feature not to be missed is being able to cache albums and playlists on your smartphone. This facility is similar to Mobile Station Caching, but you can store specific songs, albums, and custom playlists on your mobile device's memory -- these can then be enjoyed even if you aren't connected to the Internet.

Conclusion

Slacker Radio on iPad

Slacker Radio on iPad

Image © Slacker, Inc.

Internet Radio services are often considered to be too restrictive when it comes to quickly finding and building up a library of music you really like. They are typically seen as a linear experience where you just tune into a station via your software media player or dedicated Web radio program and sit their passively listening to whatever the DJ is playing at the time. However, with personalized radio services like Slacker Radio (and others such as Pandora Radio, MOG, MeeMix, etc.) you can interactively discover new music in radio style and build up custom-made stations of your own.

Slacker Radio is a stellar online music service that not only gives you professional radio-style programming, but also offers the flexibility of on-demand music. With over 100 pre-compiled stations to choose from covering just about every genre you can think of, Slacker Radio is an excellent resource for music discovery.

The free basic account which we looked at fist was surprisingly rich in features. You can play full-length music streams via stations, read artist biographies, and make custom stations. However, before jumping for Slacker's free option there are some limitations to consider. The songs you listen to will come with advertisements and there is also a limit on how many songs you can skip per station every hour. That said, if you want to try out Slacker Radio before committing to a subscription, the basic account gives you a great set of features. One of the best (and most impressive) was the inclusion of mobile music support. Using one of Slacker's free mobile music apps, you can enjoy music on the move at no extra cost -- in a lot of cases this is normally a paid-for option.

If you're serious about your music and don't want any limitations, then making the subscription leap to one of Slacker's paid-for service levels is a must. Slacker Radio Plus gives you unrestricted access to most of Slacker's features like ad-free songs, no skip limits, and a great option for caching stations on your mobile devices memory. This last option could prove invaluable if you lose Internet access on your smartphone and want to keep enjoying the music you have cached. There's also access to ABC News and ESPN Sports stations that can be customized to deliver the exact information you want. However, there's still no on-demand music with the Slacker Radio Plus level and you can't keep replaying individual songs over and again. If this feature is vital, then you'll need to opt for Slacker Premium or choose an on-demand only music service.

Finally, we looked at the top subscription level on offer called, Slacker Premium Radio. If on-demand music is uber important, then this level gives you 24/7 entertainment wherever and when ever you want it. Paying the extra allows you to replay individual songs and listen to complete albums which you can't do with Slacker's other service levels. You also get the option to use playlists rather than customized stations. These give you an extra layer of control for compiling you own music selections. Slacker Premium Radio also excels in its mobile music offerings by allowing you to cache individual songs or complete albums that you can listen to even if you are not connected to the Internet.

Overall, if you are looking for a flexible Internet Radio service that also has great support for a wide range of mobile device platforms, then Slacker Radio deserves a serious look.

Disclosure: The company provided free access to this service for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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