Unless you’ve been living in a cave listening only to 8-track tapes, you know that Spotify has just launched in the U.S. But they’re not the only cloud-based music service on these shores. Slacker is a Web radio service that aims to tailor itself to your tastes.
In this regard, Slacker might be closer to Pandora than Spotify. But where Pandora uses sophisticated algorithms to pick tracks it’ll think you like, Slacker’s music is hand-picked by human disc jockeys Slacker says they’ve hired after being replaced by computers in terrestrial radio stations.
On first glance, the interface seems a little rough, but there’s a healthy selection of stations you can listen to. There’s everything from hip-hop to indie rock to country, comedy, even ABC News if you spring for one of the paid options. If you’re interested in hearing a particular artist, you can just punch in a name in the search box and you’ll get a station built around an artist or a track. Yes, they have The Beatles, which gives them a small advantage over Spotify.
Slacker will pull up contemporaries of your artists. I might be accustomed to Pandora’s attempt to pick songs based on musical similarities, which offers some surprising suggestions, but the humans seemed to have focused on tracks which are on the more popular end of the spectrum. But, as they say, your mileage may vary.
Like real radio, you’ll have to sit through ads occasionally if you stay on the free version, and you’ll only be limited to six skips per hour. For $3.99/month Slacker Radio Plus, you’ll get rid of the ads and the skip limit and gain the ability to cache stations, making it available to play on your mobile device without a connection. Yes, there are mobile apps available. Besides iPhone, iPad, and Android, you can get it for Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry, among others. The iPhone version I downloaded for my iPod Touch was actually nicer than the Web version.
For $9.99, which is the same as Spotify’s Unlimited plan, you can create your own playlists if you think you can do a better job than the humans, and play music on demand, right down to the album and the song, though you can do that on Spotify for free.
Slacker is useful for people who just want to relax and listen to music and don’t know exactly what they want. We reviewed Spotify when it finally landed in the U.S. For a real radio that’s environmentally friendly, check out the Recycled Radio.