By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 2:13 am
Way back in March of 2010, nifty Internet radio service Slacker began demoing features for on-demand listening, putting it more squarely in competition with Rhapsody, Napster, and other all-you-can-eat subscription services. Today, it’s finally launching the service. It’s available in its browser-based version and iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, and BlackBerry versions–and also in a new iPad version.
Slacker’s approach to integrating on-demand access to albums and songs is pretty straightforward, retaining the emphasis on radio while providing features comparable to the core ones offered by other subscription services. You still get both standard stations in an array of genres and ones you build and tweak yourself based on artists you choose. But now you can toggle between the stations and album view, letting you play albums, songs (eight million of ’em), and playlists at will–either by streaming them or caching them to your device for offline listening.
The new features are part of a tier of service called Slacker Premium Radio, which costs $9.99 a month, the going rate for on-demand music. You can get a free month of service by going here. As before, there’s a free version that’s highly enjoyable if all you want to do is listen to radio-style music, including custom stations; and Slacker Radio Plus, a $3.99/month variant which eliminates ads, includes lyrics, and lets you cache music and skip past songs an unlimited number of times. (Premium Radio has all of Plus’s features.)
The iPad app is particularly cool–as far as I know, Slacker is the first major music service that’s bothered to build an version that takes advantage of the tablet’s copious real estate. The program looks great, and its multi-pane design makes it easier to browse around than it is on a phone; it’s way more pleasant than dealing with an iPhone app in 2X mode. (Slacker’s iOS version is a universal app with both iPhone and iPad modes.)
The competition among subscription music services is intense: in recent months, I’ve been partial to Rdio, in part it lets you cache music to your phone from the browser interface, has a feature that unlocks songs for streaming if you own them in MP3 form, and has a desktop app–all features which Slacker lacks. But Slacker’s belated entry into the market is nicely done overall. It’s particularly good news for BlackBerry users (who have skimpier music offerings than iOS and Android types), iPad owners, and people who are already fans of Slacker’s approach to Internet radio and want one place to go for music listening.