Slacker Radio, our Editors' Choice award-winning iPad streaming music, has undergone a slight redesign, but it delivers the same excellent service we've enjoyed over the years. A deep music well, on-demand streaming, playlists, and over 200 curated channels make Slacker Radio the premier streaming music service, but the absence of the informative "Music Guide" section—which is found on the Slacker website and smartphone apps—places the iPad app a step behind the other versions.
Slightly Tweaked Design
The latest Slacker iPad build keeps most of the previous version's design elements, but features a few visual changes. The look, curiously, doesn't conform to Slacker's smartphone and desktop designs that feature a soft, baby blue color scheme and panel-driven interface. The classic black/white/gold Slacker logo, however, is now orange, and the station history page features dark hues and borders.
The app's upper-portion features a station's name, artist and album names, media controls, sharing options (email, Twitter), and general app options. A column on the left side of the screen houses the 30+ various Slacker genres (ranging from Rock to Spiritual to Comedy), as well as custom stations I created. Tapping "My Stations" launched a channel that housed all seven of my custom stations (complete with descriptions and artwork). Bringing a finger to the "Afropunk" play button brought Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" to my ears.
Getting Started With Slacker Radio
You can also dive into Slacker's deep catalog by keying in an artist or song title into the app's search engine. Based on your selection, Slacker will cull a tightly weaved station. Typing in "Queen" caused Slacker to fire up "Flash's Theme," and afterward serve up only Queen songs. Alternately, clicking the ban icon prevents an artist or song from appearing in that created station. Clicking on the heart-shaped "Favorite" icon gives a song or artist extra weight, causing Slacker to play it more frequently.
Swiping from right to left causes Slacker to skip the current song—you can do that six time per hour with a free account and unlimited times if you have either Slacker Radio Plus ($3.99 per month) or Slacker Radio Premium ($9.99 per month). Tracks can be rewound, but license limitations prevent certain songs from doing so. When a song plays, you can view the album review, artist bio, and lyrics (unfortunately, lyrics aren't available for every song and non-pay accounts display only partial lyrics). Overall, the new interface was easy to dive into and navigate. Slacker Plus and Premium are more expensive than Pandora's $36 annual subscription, but its free, basic service gives you unlimited free streaming (Pandora will charge 99-cents for the remainder of the month, once you pass 40 hours of listening).
Slacker Radio Premium's on-demand playback is easily the coolest feature, as you no longer have to wait for Slacker to serve up tracks; I simply keyed a song title into the search box and listened to my favorite tunes. A drop-down arrow appears when you're in the Artist Bio, Album Review, or Lyrics areas. This let me add a song to a playlist, heart it, ban it (or the artist entirely), purchase it from iTunes, and view the Artist Page (which list albums, songs, related artists, and the various stations in which they appear), and Album Page. The Album Page is one of the best new additions to the service as you can play an entire individual album—in sequence—from beginning to end in licensing permits it. This is a service that I've longed for since Slacker's inception and I'm glad to finally see it implemented.
Clicking the drop-down arrow next to a station name let me edit the station (name, banned artists, more) favorite the station, cache the station for offline playback, or visit the station page where I could edit the "seed" artists that are its foundation. The music options run very, very deep.
Music Selection and Sound Quality
Slacker Radio features close to 30 top-level genre categories with most categories containing at least three to four sub-categories—there's a lot of music to consume here. I was surprised, however, to see Classic Soul and Funk placed under the Hip Hop/RnB umbrella—I expected it to have its own top-level category.
Slacker Radio, unfortunately, is missing "Music Guide," a major addition that came with the Slacker Radio iPhone, Android, and desktop redesign. Music Guide is a new information hub that fills you in on the latest music happenings and points you toward cool content. For example, Courtney Love—at the time of this writing—just announced a nine-day tour. Music Guide prominently featured the former Hole singer by providing a blog entry-like summary of the news and linking to her artist page where a bio, popular songs, albums, and featured videos live. It's a convenient way to discover music beyond the basic related songs you'll hear within your music stream, and it's a shame that it's not included in Slacker for iPad.
On the upside, Slacker streamed crisp, hiccup-free audio over my home and office network connections. The Web version streams at 128 Kbps, but Slacker wouldn't reveal the bitrate for the mobile versions. Unless you're an audiophile, Slacker's sound quality will satisfy even when the audio is pumped through iPad's speakers, a pair of Sony MDR headphones, or streamed to a pair of speakers using AirPlay. The bass lines were full and bouncy, and there was a good separation of high and low sounds.
Should You Listen To Slacker (for iPad)?
You know that an app is top notch when the biggest gripe that you can muster comes from record label licensing shenanigans than the service itself. The intuitive interface, deep customization options, caching, on-demand streaming, and the usual Slacker bells and whistles makes Slacker for iPad a must-have for music fans and an Editors' Choice award winner.