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Streaming Music Showdown: Slacker Radio

If you’re a slacker like me, then you really don’t have the time (read: energy) to go creating completely custom playlists full of music you love. It’s so much easier to pick one song and have the rest filled in, covering all the bases in the process. Thankfully there is Slacker Radio. Now Slacker isn’t the only streaming music service to create intelligent playlists based on a song or artist, but it does a pretty impressive job of it and has a hefty supply of music to pull from.

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To get started with, just enter a song or artist and Slacker will give you a selection of search results to choose from. The one I was looking for was usually at the top of the list, and only a few extremely fringe artists didn’t show up in Slacker’s system. After you choose the best result Slacker starts streaming a station based around it. A search for She and Him resulted in quite honestly one of the best selections of music I have heard from a streaming music service. Selections were varied yet similar, and always something I was interested in hearing. The only complaint might be that the station played She and Him in heavy rotation, but if you are looking for a specific artist that’s probably what you want anyway.

One issue for me and I know for many users is that Slacker Radio will interrupt your music streams with commercials every few songs, and as a free user you will be limited to 6 skips (though these seem to replenish as you listen to more commercials). Once you get past this, the listening experience is actually quite enjoyable.

The sound quality is better than most similar services, and there is some pretty good functionality built into the app.The notification bar element of Slacker Radio is particularly impressive compared to its contemporaries. It features not only song name and artist info, but also album art, all right in the drop down notification bar without interrupting your e-mail reading or Facebook checking. Music can be shared directly from the app through e-mail, messaging, and Twitter. Song and artist information is available and you can save stations to your favorites for quick callback. There is no built in ability to directly purchase music via the application.

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The big caveat to all of the good things about Slacker Radio is that to get its full functionality you need to subscribe to the Slacker Radio Plus service. If you go the way of an upgrade you will ditch the commercials and earn unlimited skips, get additional info such as song lyrics, and gain the ability to customize stations by banning songs or artists from the rotation. There is the ability to create completely custom stations, but not through the app directly. You must create the custom playlists through the Slacker website and they will sync with the app (as well as all other playlists and recent listens). The coolest feature about Slacker Radio Plus is offline station caching for playback when not on a reliable network. So far I haven’t gotten much use out of this, but I could see it coming in handy. The benefits of a subscription are going to set you back $50 a year, however, or more if you choose to pay by the month at $4.99.

It’s worth mentioning that Slacker has a pretty decent selection of recommended stations to choose from right in the main menu of the app, so if you don’t even feel like taking the time to search for something you know, you know you’ll find something you like.

The Pros:

  • Great music selection and strong intelligent playlists
  • Audio quality ranks among the best for streaming music players
  • Notification bar element features album art in addition to song info
  • Plus subscription enables killer features like custom playlists and song caching

The Cons:

  • Commercials interrupt playback and limited song skips with free account
  • App is lacking in unique features without Slacker Radio Plus subscription
  • No ability to purchase music directly via the app
  • Lacking in a few more obscure artists

The Bottom Line: Slacker Radio is a really good streaming music solution with great song matching and playlist creation abilities. I’ve even managed to find a few new artists I plan to check out further. However, Slacker Radio does not offer the complete package that Slacker Radio Plus does, and for $50 a year I can’t say I’d bite. There are other apps that offer better free alternatives for streaming music, but if you can deal with commercials and want some pretty solid streaming over your Android phone you may enjoy Slacker Radio.

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*SLACKER RADIO PLUS CONTEST WINNERS*

A few of you guys really surprised me with your musical selections. Some of you suggested artists for me specifically that just missed the mark. But overall I enjoyed going through and getting a taste of what the Phandroid audience enjoys listening to. I decided the winners based on how entertaining the station created in Slacker Radio was for me. So if you picked an artist that played on a station with other groups I already like, your suggestion ranked higher. The more I enjoyed the station the higher I ranked the artist.

So now the winners:

Each receiving a year subscription to Slacker Radio Plus:

adam with his suggestion of She and Him – this station played some of my favorite groups including Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Feist, Grizzly Bear, Rilo Kiley, and Bon Iver (plus who can resist Zoe Deschanel)

Kevin McCann with his suggestion of Hot Chip - this station played some more of my favorites including Crystal Castles, Passion Pit, Animal Collective, MGMT, LCD Soundsystem, and Beach House

Receiving three months Slacker Radio Plus Subscriptions:

Daniel Rouleau with his suggestion of Blitzen Trapper
rob’s brother with his suggestion of Washed Out
Zachary Gabet with his suggestion of White Rabbits

I will get in touch with each of you via the e-mail you provided with more info on redeeming your subscriptions.


This article is part of a series on music streaming apps for Android. Each day I will be reviewing a different streaming app to help separate the must-have music players from the rest.

Other articles in this series: Pandora, Last.fm, UMusic, Grooveshark

Follow Kevin on Twitter, or send an e-mail to Kevin(at)Phandroid.com




  • Logotic

    > who can resist Zoe Deschanel?

    I can resist her fine when she tries to sing

  • Gunner

    Slacker has become my default music streamer. Has pretty good sound quality, except sometimes the bass sounds muddy or distorted on certain songs. Anybody else noticed that?

  • kwest12

    WAIT WAIT!!! This sounds like this is your last review in the showdown! You still need to include Grooveshark! Seriously, it’s awesome.

  • Kevin Krause

    @kews12
    I plan to get to Grooveshark next week. I have been trying to get in touch with them to see if they can get me a demo subscription to use the app while I review it, but it is proving pretty difficult. Either way, fear not. From my experience using the grooveshark web-player, I am definitely not skipping over reviewing their Android app.

  • anon

    I tried to use Slacker on and off for a month, but noticed flat low end on not just some songs, but every song. I eventually just gave up and uninstalled the app. I kept trying because I really liked the look of the app. I liked that it showed the next artist queued up. My favorite feature by far though was being able to ban an artist and not just a single song.

  • kwest12

    I just was worried that this was the last one seeing as how the contest was to win Slacker. Glad to hear the Grooveshark review is still coming! Thanks for the reply Kevin.

  • Nathan H.

    Is this the same thing as Pandora? What’s the difference?

  • David

    Are you planning to do a review of the new Rhapsody app? I have it installed for the 14-day preview, and it’s working pretty well so far. Haven’t tried other streaming services, though, so I don’t know how it compares.

  • http://androidphonefans deezle

    @logotic…..AMEN! Cute face,nice body,passable actress with what have to be the most stunning eyes ever made….but after hearing the end of that jim carrey movie,and a commercial that I strongly believe is her,yeah,uhh…think i’d rather listen to bobcats fornicate.

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