Music streaming service Slacker has been around for quite a while - six years and counting - but has never been able to gain the traction enjoyed by its competitors Pandora and Spotify. That may begin to change with Slacker's full mobile and browser facelift, which rolled out to users Tuesday and comes equipped with a handful of new channel additions.
In an effort to make things cleaner, simpler and a bit brighter (a good move considering it differentiates the design from that of Spotify's darker hue), both the mobile and Web versions Slacker is now awash in a pleasant blue-and-white scheme. The browser version has an elegant single-page interface that prompts you to jump right into streaming with a search bar. One look at the old site, which can still be accessed through a link at the bottom of the homepage, illustrates just how much Slacker's design sensibilities have improved. It also went ahead and axed its old motorcycle-company-look logo, opting to simplify the design to better fit with the new color scheme and cleaner interface.
But better design means nothing without stronger functionality to go with it. Slacker has always had competitive features, but the redesign makes them more accessible - and make now a good time to check out the oft-overlooked service. One strength is that Slacker is everywhere - on Blackberry, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Nokia and Palm as well as through your browser.
Slacker has also cut deals with a handful of car companies and entertainment-hardware manufacturues, from Ford and Tesla to Sonos and Logitech. So while it may lack the cultural pervasiveness of Pandora and Spotify, it certainly has the physical ubiquity to be a major player.
The new update adds a radio section with plugins for big players in the sports radio and news marketplace - ESPN and ABC News - with more to arrive in coming months. You can also find a few comedy channels in the section, opening the door for a slew of podcast and other unique Web chat platforms to find their way to Slacker.
But Slacker's big strength has always been its more than 200 hand-curated sections, an output of creative human manpower that puts even the best algorithmic music-selection tools to shame. The ability to pinpoint the work of an artist during a certain timespan - a period that may not be tied to a specific set of albums - and then create a "station" built off that by other human listeners is invaluable.
Slacker's service, much like its competitors', is free if you can tolerate advertising. For $3.99 a month, you can get Slacker Plus, which kills the commercials, and $9.99 a month gets you the Premium version, which adds offline listening. To promote the new and improved Slacker the company is offering a free 1-month Premium subscription on February 14 and 15.