Ok, this isn’t a post about Model S performance. This is about internet radio in the Model S. In a previous post I slammed Tesla on the almost-there functionality of their USB music player so you might be expecting me to go off on a rant on their implementation of Slacker Internet Radio in the Model S, but you’d be wrong. Tesla got Slacker Internet Radio right in the Model S.
Tesla got Slacker Internet Radio right in the Model S.
Before taking delivery of my Model S I had only heard about Slacker radio as a feature included with the Model S and even then I didn’t do any reading or research on it — I just figured it would either be useful or not, no big deal. I had low expectations. At the time I sort of thought it was going to be a bit like Pandora which I had used on and off in the past.
I had low expectations.
I do a lot of driving. To get through that I listen to a lot of audio books via Audible when i’m alone in the car cranking the miles out. But when I have company I listen to music and subject my company to my mostly-country music taste (no comments please). In the past I always listened to music from a DVD full of MP3s that I had purchased and loaded onto the DVD. As I said in the USB post, the plan was to do the same thing but use USB instead but that didn’t pan out and left me looking for options.
Only after I tried and failed with the USB approach did I really try Slacker other than my first day “does it work” check. It wasn’t going to have my playlist, my favorites, why would I want it?
Slacker is one of two internet radio options included on every Tesla Model S. I’ll cover the other one, Tunein, at some other time. Slacker is music delivered over the internet via the 3G connection included/standard in every Model S. To call it radio is a bit degrading to me since when I think radio, I think commercials. There has never been a commercial on Slacker when i’ve listened to it with the way its configured on the Model S. Like Pandora, Slacker also includes commercials for free accounts, but the Slacker account your Model S comes connected to is commercial-free.
There are no commercials on Slacker on the Model S
On their site they have the two paid versions available. This Tesla-provided account seems to be somewhere in the middle in terms of features:
It will be great if someday they also added the lyrics and custom playlists options since they have that capability in Slacker.
Slacker offers a number of playlists you can choose from that are specific to genres, popularity etc. I find the selection to be quite rich. With Slacker you can listen to unlimited ad-free music of your preference any time you want. But what if a song comes on you don’t like?
Once you’ve got music playing you’ve got most of the basic options. Pause/Play and Skip to next song. Missing is Stop — an indefinite pause is a stop and Tesla rethinks everything for the better. Also missing is re-play this song and/or go back to last song. You may be able to get to a previous song with music search (more on that later) but otherwise once played its gone.
Two extra options are a “I like this song” button and a “I hate this song” button. This provides your preferences to the Slacker app and in theory it uses this information to either play more songs like the one you liked or play no more songs like it, and definitely not that specific song ever again. While the skeptic in me suspects that the buttons do nothing real, it does preserve the settings. A song you hated last week will not come back on. And ones you like come on and are still flagged as liked. Whether its using that information for more intelligent things is unknown.
You can favorite “stations” which are either ones you’ve picked from a list or ones you’ve “created” with a search, but you can’t favorite individual songs. Overall the controls are really decent.
With Slacker you can sort of play songs/artists on demand. The way you do that is you hold the “push to talk” button on the right of your steering wheel down and say something like “Play Hells Bells” (threw you off with the non-country song didn’t I?) and up comes a search box with results. From there you can edit the search or pick one of the options. Results are grouped into Songs and Artists. Note that there’s no way to bring up the search box without the “push to talk” approach. Your passengers cannot search for music without your help.
Your passengers cannot search for music.
Next you pick a song, “Hells Bells” by AC/DC (you following me now?), and sometimes that song will play. What happens is Slacker makes a new “station” based on that song preference and starts playing your new “Hells Bells Radio” station. That song you picked will eventually come up. But it is not always the first one played.
The reason for this has something to do with the music industry, licensing and all sorts of arcane things I don’t want/need to understand. The effect is sometimes a poor user experience. You don’t expect this and Elon is on record saying that you can play any song any time you like which isn’t the actual truth. You can play most any song, and you can play that song pretty close to when you want but you can definitely not play any song at any time. While not meeting the overstated ability of the play-on-demand its a pretty cool feature and is close enough to be useful and some times fun/hilarious with the results.
You can definitely not play any song at any time despite Tesla’s claims otherwise.
Your Model S gets the music over the internet via the 3G connection. It needs a normal user account and password to connect to Slacker. Those are pre-configured by Tesla upon delivery (usually within 4 hours after you’ve taken delivery). The account name is sort of random garbage and Tesla generally does not provide you the password — the account is intended to only be used in the Model S. You can use your own account, but unless its a Premium account and you take advantage of that, its not worth your time. You may consider using your own premium account if you want to make your own playlists on your computer for example.
There are some reports of owners getting Tesla to disclose the Slacker account password and then using that account online too but thats the exception rather than the rule and my casual attempts to get it where politely rebuffed 🙂
Special Feature & Quirk
One really cool feature of Slacker in the Model S is that you can pause and resume the music at any time. Even better is it does this on its own when you exit the car. That means you can be listening to a favorite song, get out and do some shopping, get back in and it resumes. You’d expect this from a DVD or USB player, but this resume ability is unusual and cool on internet radio.
This resume ability is unusual and cool on internet radio
One quirk of the feature and Slacker in general is that sometimes it resumes the song and then after a bit just gives up and moves on to another song. Or even if there was no entry/exit event sometimes it will just skip to a new song. People have speculated that this may be due to some legal licensing limits, or perhaps even bugs in the Tesla or Slacker systems or software. Either way its annoying on the rare events it does happen. It seems to mostly happen after resuming a song.
I suspected it was due to some limited buffer size (perhaps 30 seconds worth) but i’ve disproven that theory. My current working theory is if you exit the car before it’s buffered the entire song and then come back it can only play what it buffered and there’s no way for it to fetch the rest after an interruption. If thats the case (“song not fully buffered and being resumed”) they should skip to the next song immediately rather than playing the rest of what they have when they should know it’s incomplete.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Slacker and its my go-to music player in the Model S. The album art is great, the controls are good and the sound quality is fine for me (even on the “medium” setting). While I was disappointed with the USB music player, the Model S Slacker Internet Radio functionality is impressive.
The Model S Slacker Internet Radio functionality is impressive.
At the very top of the Slacker station/category list is a “Search” option. It goes:
So anyone can just tap on “Search’, not just voice activated.
I’m a long time Pandora user, and I just returned from a 2100 mile trip to Chicago, and Slacker was actually a pretty good surrogate for Pandora,although it didn’t “wander around” the music space as much as Pandora does… in effect exposing us to a somewhat more narrow field of music related to the selected channel/band/genre, etc. I’m really hoping Tesla soon adds a “Pandora” app that will allow us to use our existing Pandora accounts — it doesn’t have to be subsidized by Tesla. I’m already paying for Pandora, so I’d like to use that in the car as well. But in the mean time, Slacker will do.