Editors' note, July 8, 2015: See CNET's guide to Internet radio services for a more up-to-date evaluation of this service, along with an analysis of how it compares to competitors.
The latest version of Slacker Radio for Android reflects yet another visual overhaul. The company's previous redesign (earlier this year) brought bright colors, more white space, and a tiled dashboard to the app, but this iteration takes things in a completely different direction with full-bleed images and an overall dark theme with gradients and translucent paneling. While some users may not like the noticeable lack of white space, I happen to think it gives off a more sophisticated feel overall.
At first glance, Slacker Radio might seem like another Pandora wannabe, with its ability to algorithmically generate playlists and rating system for improving stations. But upon further inspection, it is easy to see that this streaming-music service offers quite a bit more than its competitors. To use Slacker you must sign up for an account with your e-mail address or log in with your Facebook or Google+ credentials.
As with similar radio apps, Slacker lets you create a uniquely programmed radio station based on an artist, track, or album. As you listen, you can improve the programming by voting tracks up or down, or by editing a station's settings one by one. You can add different artists and tracks to a station to affect its algorithm. Or, there's a Fine Tune menu, which lets you calibrate your stations based on factors like popularity and release date, and adjust how many similar artists you'd like the app to add to your station. Altogether, these settings make Slacker's programmed radio exceptionally customizable. What's more, as you listen, you can view album art, reviews, bios, and lyrics. You can even share a link to a station via e-mail, text message, or Twitter.
But more than just a Pandora-like radio programmer, Slacker also includes one of the most comprehensive selections of curated stations I've seen. Top 40, '90s, and a wealth of your typical genre-based stations are all there. In addition, you get live local ESPN Radio options, ABC lifestyle stations, and almost 30 stations that are curated by actual recording artists. These artist curators aren't quite A-list, but many of them are popular, and their stations are interesting nonetheless. It's this unique mix of curated stations that sets Slacker apart from many of its competitors.
New to Slacker's arsenal and available to all users is a nifty feature called My Vibe, which helps you find the perfect playlist to match your mood or activity. Similar to Songza, My Vibe starts by offering you a few suggestions based on the current day and time. From there, it gives you a menu of options that may or may not match your activity or mood. For instance, as I write this, I'm listening to a playlist that was suggested for someone who is working in the office on a Friday afternoon. So far, My Vibe seems to have fewer playlist suggestions than Songza. But still, the feature is nice addition to Slacker's fast-growing toolbelt.
While Slacker's free service is certainly enjoyable, there is a lot more fun to be had behind the premium-account pay wall. The midtier paid account ($3.99 per month) gives you unlimited song skips and lets you cache large portions of stations to your device for listening while offline. Meanwhile, the highest tier, Slacker Premium Radio ($9.99 per month), takes listening to another level by adding unlimited, on-demand song play, similar to what Spotify offers. The price tag for Premium may seem high, but keep in mind that these subscribers can search for specific songs or albums and play them in their entirety or add them to a playlist. This ultimate combination of on-demand, curated, and algorithm-programmed radio makes for a uniquely rich listening experience while on the go.
And of course, all paid subscribers get an ad-free listening experience. Meanwhile, free users have to deal with interstitial video and audio ads, and banner ads, which together can get pretty intrusive. Still, Slacker Radio, as a whole, offers enough bells and whistles to make up for its eyesores (and earsores).