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