November 11, 2009

The folks at Slacker are anything but slackers, but last month’s announcement that Slacker would phase out its G2 player leaves a hole in its portable player portfolio.

One of the main differentiators of the Slacker service is its ability for it to cache radio stations using Wi-Fi. Slacker’s first player was a rather unsatisfying effort that, for example, had a hard time remembering WPA passwords. The G2 was much improved, although hardly competitive with the best experiences from Apple and Microsoft in terms of portable music players.

Dropping its own branded player makes a lot of sense for Slacker. Helped by Verizon Wireless’s distribution, the company has had great success with its BlackBerry client, but which only now can cache over Wi-Fi with the BlackBerry Storm 2. Slacker is also able to cache stations on Sony’s X-series Walkman, but hat’s a $300 device. So for the short-term, anyway, the end of the Slacker G2 will leave a price-functionality hole for those wanting to listen to the Slacker service offline and on the go. Perhaps dropping support for the G2 will free up some engineering resources to finally implement caching on the iPhone and iPod touch as the Rhapsody team intends to do.

Regardless, Slacker is clearing out the G2 for $129 and throwing in a free dock.

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September 16, 2008

imageIf the recent announcement that the excellent Slacker service would soon be available on Blackberry devices got you thinking Slacker was abandoning its own hardware, it’s time to hit Pause. I’ve been trying out Slacker’s sequel to its original innovative but flawed portable device. The Slacker G2 is dramatically better in just about every respect — user interface, controls, build quality, materials and portability, to name a few. Slacker has also traded in the original player’s large canvas case for a slick silicone shell that includes an integrated belt clip.

Gone is the troublesome touch strip. The scroll wheel (which no longer feels mushy like the original player’s) brings up the menu system simply by scrolling to the bottom of the screen. Also, while I continued to encounter problems with the original player such as forgetting Wi-Fi passwords and intermittent stuttering at the beginning of a song, those problems have not appeared with the Slacker G2.

There are, of course, a few trade-offs. The title bar overlays a bit of the album art while the bottom of the screen with track information feels a bit cramped; such are some of the sacrifices of moving to a smaller screen. Also, the battery is no longer user-serviceable. Still, while I am looking forward to the Blackberry version of Slacker (Slackberry?) and still want an iPhone/iPod touch version, the Slacker G2 looks like it will take the prize for the most improved consumer electronics product of the year. Slacker’s claim that it has developed the best portable Internet radio experience on the market rings true.