Slacker G2 portable player review (Verdict: Nails its niche, but its hardware days are numbered)

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The Slacker G2 media player meets its primary goal ably: it puts the streaming radio service — think XM plus Pandora — in a pocket-sized player that automatically updates itself when in range of friendly Wi-Fi. Its new BlackBerry-like interface, with a rolling clickwheel on the side, is easy to understand and pleasant to use. And if you like exploring new music, its hand-selected genre channels are completely entertaining.

But it’s still just a real-world cache for an internet service — the real future of the company was announced last week, when RIM announced a software version of Slacker for BlackBerry. Music players that exist outside of phones are still the predominate way to listen to music on the go, but they’re in their twilight. It’s good to see that Slacker is moving away from its hardware business to focus on the connected devices already on the market. (And indeed, if you’re a BlackBerry user I can recommend the Slacker app without question; even the free version, with limited “skips”, is a great way to be introduced to new music.)

The G2 fails hard in one area: the screen. Amply sized and of modest resolution, the LCD used goes completely black in direct sunlight, an oversight somewhat inexplicable when other devices have managed to avoid this hurdle for years.

Syncing new stations over Wi-Fi can be slow, but only if you sit and watch it load. (And you shouldn’t. The G2 will slurp up new stations whenever it’s in range of a Wi-Fi network.) It’s filling its 4 or 8GB cache (depending on model) with lots of new compressed music. Slacker wouldn’t tell me the exact bit rate, but say they use AAC to provide something that sounds like 128kbps MP3s — I’d guess they’re using 64 or 96kbps. It sounds fine, although certainly not pristine.

You can also copy MP3s from your home computer to take up part of the cache space if you wish.

The basic unit is $200; the 8GB is $250. The Slacker streaming service is completely free, but you’ll have a few ads interspersed between songs, as well as limits on the number of times you can skip past a playing song to go to the next. For an additional $7.50 a month you can not only skip as many times as you want, but can even mark specific songs to be saved on the device to be listened to later. I have a hard time thinking of why someone would pay $250 for the G2 and then not get the premium service.

It’s safe to say that the G2 is less an enticement to lure in new customers to the Slacker service and more of a way for die-hard Slacker users to take the experience on the road. If you’re unsure if you’re interested, the buying exploration is easy: go play around with Slacker.com in your web browser; if you want that service on the go and have a BlackBerry, get the Slacker application; if you don’t have a BlackBerry, buy the G2.

Product Page [Slacker.com]

RelatedReview: Slacker G2 Personal Radio Player
Product review – Slacker G2 personal radio [Gadling]
Lightning Review: Slacker G2 Portable Radio [Gizmodo]
Slacker G2 Personal Radio Player [PCMag]
Slacker G2 Internet Radio Portable: The Technologizer┬áReview”>Technologizer]

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4 Responses to Slacker G2 portable player review (Verdict: Nails its niche, but its hardware days are numbered)

  1. Enochrewt says:

    I don’t get these services. Using streaming software like Orb, I have my considerable music collection on tap on my phone, not to mention the tens of thousands of internet radio broadcasts available in the same spot if I want someone to DJ music for me. The setup took all of 7 minutes, and it works flawlessly. Maybe I don’t understand because I’ve never been a subscriber to any of these services, but what makes it so much better that I’d pay $7.50/mo for it?

  2. RikF says:

    I hate to do this, but this one bugs the hell out of me…
    “Music players that exist outside of phones are still the *predominate* way to listen to music on the go”

    Shouldn’t that be predominant?

  3. strider_mt2k says:

    I tend to stream last.fm through my internet tablet because I have access to many connections where I work and travel.

    Where I can’t do that I have Sirius (which I could also stream to my tablet with an hour’s worth of terminal-level fiddling).

    Slacker seemed cool at first, now they inject ads into their online stuff and it tends to bork up the online player.

    Failing those options I can stick my 8GB player n shuffle and be fairly happy.

  4. Not a Doktor says:

    If I won something like this I’d probably end up using my 30gig ipod for video.

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