By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 9:51 am
Slacker, the nifty personalized online radio service that’s available on the Web and on a dedicated portable player, is making its way onto phones. Last week at CES, the company released a version that runs on most modern BlackBerry phones, and today brought an iPhone edition. I haven’t tried the BlackBerry one yet, but the iPhone one is good. Good enough that it’s lured me from Pandora, everyone’s favorite iPhone music service, for the moment, at least.
Slacker on the iPhone is very much like Slacker on the Web: You can listen to 100+ genre stations for free, search for artists and then listen to stations that feature them and other performers similar in style, and tweak streaming stations to provide more better-known songs or more obscurities, more newer songs or more older ones, and so forth. A Cover Flow-style interface lets you skip ahead to future songs in your playlist, and you can read about albums and artists, and hop over to the iTunes Store to buy songs you hear and like. It’s all very easy, enjoyable, and addictive.
Unlike Pandora, Slacker doesn’t give you accss to its full suite of station-creation tools from the iPhone: You can’t build a fully-customized station on the iPhone. (You can, however, listen to ones you created on the Web, and do a fair amount of tweaking and music discovery.) I also found a few minor quirks: If you’re logged into Slacker on the Web and try to connect on your iPhone, the iPhone app rejects your password when it really should tell you that you can only be logged in at one place at a time. And when I created a station by searching for an artist or song, the fine-tuning screen was there but the controls that should have been on it were missing.
Slacker’s free version is in theory an ad-supported service, although I’ve listened quite a bit and have only heard a couple of commercials so far; for $3.99 a month, you can get Slackr Radio Plus service, which is ad-free and lets you skip an unlimited number of songs. (The free service only lets you skip ahead by a max of six songs on any given station during a 60-minute interval.)
Slacker for the iPhone also lacks the company’s own player’s ability to cache songs so you can listen when you don’t have an Internet connection–a feature which the new BlackBerry app does have. On the iPhone, Slacker is just a streaming music service. But it’s an impressive one. And with so much music and other radio programming available for free on my iPhone, I’m spending more and more time wondering why I’m paying for XM satellite radio…at least during the baseball off-season.
Herewith, some self-explanatory screens from Slacker for the iPhone: