updated 03:00 am EDT, Tue May 17, 2011
Slacker iPad unveiled and tested by us
Slacker early Tuesday brought out its much requested iPad-native app (link soon). The new app, like the BlackBerry PlayBook app, takes advantage of the much larger screen and shows both a much larger now-playing view along with genres and stations each in their own spaces, saving listeners the trouble of jumping between the screens of the iPhone version. Premium Radio listeners can still stream or cache on-demand, and it can push audio over AirPlay to nearby speakers.
Service is still the same as on smaller-screened devices, and gives everyone unlimited radio. Free Basic users have to treat it as radio with ads, limited skips per hour, and no on-demand features, while Radio Plus users waive the ads and skip limitations while getting basic caching. Premium users get full control along with lyrics.
The app is available today. Listeners wanting to move up to Radio Plus can pay $4 per month, and Premium users pay $10 per month. Both are available from inside the app.
We've had the opportunity to try Slacker for iPad for the past few weeks, and consider it one of our favorite iPad music apps. The larger canvas of the iPad's screen makes for a much faster experience picking and setting a station, and especially for making a custom playlist or otherwise using the on-demand features of Premium. Much of the interface is virtually identical to the PlayBook; the extra screen size of the iPad does seem to prove Steve Jobs' criticisms of seven-inch tablets all by itself, though, since it provides much more room to breathe.
Also, if you have an AirPlay-equipped audio system, this may well be the perfect companion to the iPad. We tried it with our AirPlay-ready Sonos setup and loved having complete control over just how we got our music. Sonos itself offers an excellent Internet radio system, but Slacker's system was obviously better at tailoring a song around a given track or customized playlists. iOS 4 multitasking still works, so you can set it and get back to browsing or a game without a noticeable impact.
We were trying the beta and don't want to make too many final judgments -- Slacker only just let us know it was going live hours ahead of time -- but we'll note that some of the features may feel slightly buried by small buttons at the top. And, of course, getting the full features still requires paying much more than just free radio. Even so, if you're using a service like Rdio or Rhapsody, the existence of such a full-bore iPad app may be enough incentive to jump the fence for what Slacker's offering.