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We like the integration of ABC News
briefs at the top of each hour, which
you can disable if you choose. The Plus
service also gives you unlimited song
skipping (forward only, unfortunately),
no ads, unlimited song requests, and
station caching for offline listening.
Music discovery relies almost entirely
on the abilities of the 100-plus DJs
from across the country who create the
service’s roughly 130 pre-programmed
stations and update them constantly. You
can interact with DJs and other users
in the forums, where you can also post
your own custom stations. Outside of
that, social interaction is limited to the
service’s integration with Twitter (you
can let folks know what you’re listening
to at any given time).
Slacker’s audio quality is very good,
with streams and cached stations using
the AACpro V2 format. To our ears, it
sounded comparable to a 160Kbps MP3
file but in a much more compact file size.
The service’s reliability didn’t disappoint
us, regardless of the device used.
The Slacker desktop interface is a bit
slow, but the mobile apps work quickly
and smoothly. The first time you cache a
station on your phone, make sure you’re
on a strong Wi-Fi connection, as it takes
a while to download all that content.
Refreshing a station takes significantly
less time since many songs stay in the
rotation. Editorial content comes from
All Music Guide (now called Rovi) and is
extremely well integrated in the mobile
app, offering easy access to lyrics (for
some songs), bios, and reviews.
Overall, Slacker Radio Plus is excellent
for the price, and the Premium service
with on-demand listening looks like it will
be a formidable Rhapsody competitor.
Available on a wide variety of plat-
Unique integration of ABC News briefs
Excellent integration of editorial con-
tent, especially in mobile apps
Customizable stations via song
Limited social interaction (Twitter and
No backward skipping/replays
No on-demand listening
$14.99 per month
Platforms: Windows Phone 7, Xbox 360,
At $14.99, Microsoft’s Zune Pass subscrip-
tion service is the priciest of this group.
The service offers unlimited access to
streaming and downloads, and it’s avail-
able on Windows Phone 7 devices, Xbox
360, Zune HD, and computers. Unique
among this group, the package also
includes 10 downloads a month, which
you can keep forever.
One highlight of the service is the Social,
which lets you share music, podcasts, and
videos. Through the Social, you can also
follow artists and add people as friends.
Unfortunately, you can’t search for users
or connect with your Facebook friends who
may be on the Social. Your profile page
displays recent listens, followed artists, and
more, and you can post Facebook-style
You discover music through Zune’s
recommendations, friends’ profiles, and
the Smart DJ custom radio feature, as well
as in MixView (available only on computers
via browser or PC software), which lets you
see a graphical representation of musical
relationships between what you’re listening
to and other artists in the Zune library.
On a desktop browser (Mac + PC),
Zune has a gorgeous, intelligent layout.
The standalone Zune PC software is
Windows-only and is required for manag-
ing content on Zune and Windows Phone
7 devices—as well as for downloading
content on a computer—but it has a very
polished look and feel with easy access
to the Zune Marketplace.
To access Zune
Pass on Windows
Phone 7 devices,
you sign in with
the same Win-
dows Live ID you
used to set up
your Zune Pass.
The mobile inter-
face is appeal-
ing and is easily
tures. You can access much of the Zune
catalog right from your mobile phone,
streaming (128Kbps WMA) or download-
ing (192Kbps WMA DRM) tracks to your
handset. The Zune service also works with
other mobile platforms that support the
protected WMA file format—though they
won’t offer the same “Zune experience”
complete with the WP7 interface.
Using a Zune Pass subscription with an
Xbox requires an Xbox Live Gold subscrip-
tion ($59.99 annually), so you really have
to want it. Zune has a very attractive 10-foot
interface on Xbox, perfect for living room
use, with easy access to images and artist
info. For a more futuristic experience, you
can use Zune with Kinect for Xbox, which
lets you navigate and control media with
a wave of your hand.
If you’re already deep in the Microsoft
ecosystem with a PC and a Windows Phone
7 smart phone (and perhaps an Xbox), a
Zune Pass subscription is a compelling
(but pricey) choice. We just wish the user
experience were more consistent and that
the service didn’t require so many different
accounts across various platforms.
Dazzling desktop interface
MixView is great for discovery
Attractive mobile interface
Robust social features
Great podcast selection
Integrates with Xbox Live subscription
Only available on Windows Phone 7
Desktop software is PC-only
Some tracks in catalog not available
Social component on mobile and Xbox
PC software is Windows-only
Laptop | March 2011
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