Review of Slacker Radio for BlackBerry Smartphones
For me discovering Slacker was like discovering a gem amongst the plethora of blackberry apps available via download from the BB App World store. Sure there are plenty of music apps out there, but there is no other app worth coining with the phrase "radio on demand." And even though that term seems like a contradiction in the sense of what traditional FM radio is about, Slacker has gone to great lengths in providing a true ‘variety of music' experience while giving the listener the maximum control over their preferences and tastes.
Slacker Works by providing you with musical Stations organized into 100 pre-programmed stations or about 10,000 artists stations. You can select a music station from say the "Alternative" genre albeit "Indie Chill" or "Singer-Songwiter" with the latter being mighty folksy if that's your deal, or you can find music based on the Artist. And this is where the app gets interesting. For example, I am listening to the Soundgarden Station and already I've heard "1979" by the Smashing Pumpkins and "Glycerine" by Bush. The App takes an artist and plays music that was popular at the height of that artist' popularity, then slowly progresses into less popular artists and or less popular songs. And this works for every artist. For example if you type Tupac, you'll get Snoop Dogg, tha Dogg Pound, Dr. Dre, Mack 10, Camilionare (from '96!) and so on. Similar genre with similar personnel.
But the power of slacker comes in its multiple forms of customisation. And there are five ways you can do this. Four of which are "Free" and one, unfortunately the most flexible one, is subscription only. If I happen to run across an annoying song by Nirvana, I can skip it (which puts it out of rotation for a while), I can ban the song (which bans it from the Soundgarden Channel), or I can outright ban the artist (no longer plays Nirvana in the SG Channel). At the same time, if I happen to like a Nirvana Song, I can "heart" it and it will play more often. Worth mentioning is that non subscription users are limited to six (6) skips per hour. But Slacker is really nice about this and if you use up all your skips, they give you back one (1) skip for every two tracks you don't skip. And so on. Now there is a way around this (sort of). If you use up all your skips say in the SG channel, you can go back to the menu and type in "spoonman" which is a SG song. This works majority of the time though not all of the time. If it does work, slacker will form "Spoonman Radio" and play most of the same artists that are in the SG Channel. If you use up all of those skips, you can select the Smashing Pumpkins channel which is part of the SG channel and so on and so on.
The final Customisable option is the web component and this is subscription only. At Slacker.com (after you activate your account via email), you can "create a station". Here you can pick and choose the songs and artists you want to listen too in a particular artist' station. For example in the SG channel, I only want to hear the Smashing Pumpkins, The Chilli Peppers and Soundgarden. I can do that. Of course you can achieve this from your phone using the skips, bans and hearts but it takes a very long time unless you have the time and enjoy playing with the app and love to venture through music. If not, you can get the relatively cheap subscription (3.99 per month) and customise a station in 5 minutes which is great on time.
Fantastic interface (great looking, simple and organized which is important), Speed improvements over version 3.0 including a much decreased buffering time per track and reduced data usage due to Slacker switching from MP3 streaming to AAC+ streaming. 40k I believe. Sound quality and volume loudness still remain great. "Station Cashing" is another great tool that Slacker offers though I don't have use for it. If you happen to have a limited data plan, you can use WiFi at home to cash up to 100 channels and then play them back at your convenience from your media card. Each channel takes about 200mb from your media card but that includes 20 plus artists and 100 songs.
Limitations for non subscription users include being limited to 6 skips per hour though there is a way around this as we've discussed. Upcoming track Icon is not displayed but who really cares. There are ads though very few. And they come and go. Sometimes you won't have an ad for five songs and other times you'll have an ad as soon as you load a station. They vary between 5 and 30 seconds.
Stability issues. In version 3.1 I'm having problems using the browser after having Slacker running for 30 min or more. Once the browser goes, then email and text go and so on. I have to restart Slacker then everything is ok. If I don't touch Slacker and just listen to music, then all is ok. But if I'm interactive with it, after a while it begins messing with other things. Hopefully in 3.2 they'll fix this. Or maybe it's just me.
For free, it's amazing. With the subscription, it's even better. I wish I had the ability to pull an artist' inventory from my phone and listen to any track I want from what they have available. But, not yet I guess. Can't wait for version 4.0 ☺
** This review was written as part of the CrackBerry Idol 2010 competition. Click for details. **