Too lazy for Pandora? Try Slacker

Pandora is more customizable, but Slacker is better if you just want to leave the driving to somebody else.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
2 min read
Correction: as a commenter pointed out, you can in fact create stations on Slacker based on a favorite artist or song--you select "Find Music," then search by artist or title and it will build a station around your search. I thought this feature was missing on the iPhone app. Now, you cannot customize those stations by adding "seeds" like you can on Pandora, nor can you use the Fine Tune feature to tweak them, but the basic idea--stations based on a particular artist or song--is available. My bad.

Slacker released its radio app for the iPhone yesterday, and while it'll have a hard time topping Pandora (which was just updated to version 2.0), there's a definite place for it.

I fine-tuned Slacker's '80s Alternative station to play more fringe hits, and it did a nice job of balancing the obscure and the palatably mainstream.

Pandora's strength is the ability to create customized radio stations based on a particular artist or song--Pandora calls them "seeds." If the station's too narrow, you can add more variety by adding additional seeds, although this doesn't always work as I expect it to--for example, adding Yo La Tengo to my Pink Floyd station had no appreciable effect, still leaving me stuck in classic rock land (Zeppelin, Doors, John Lennon). If you don't even want to take this much trouble to customize a station, Pandora offers dozens of genre-specific stations, from Techno to Reggaeton.

The trouble with Pandora's genre-bound stations, though, is they're not customizable at all--you're stuck with somebody else's programming, and you can only skip six songs per station per hour (a concession to content owners, who want to sell you downloads and subscription services).

Slacker has a much better approach toward genre-specific stations: it lets you fine tune those stations along three spectra: personal favorites (play more or less of them), popularity, and year of release. (The Web version of Slacker is more like Pandora, with artist-specific stations.) This helped me create a lot of variety without having to muck about very much. For instance, when I fine-tuned Slacker's '80s Alternative station to play more "Fringe" songs, it did a nice job of mixing the obscure, like Flock of Seagulls' "Nightmares" (did you know they had more than one song?), with the weird but popular, like Peter Gabriel's "Big Time."

Both apps are free, so if you've got enough space, you can switch between them--Pandora when you're feeling finicky, Slacker when you just want somebody else to drive.