Product review - Slacker G2 personal radio
Welcome to my review of the Slacker G2 personal radio. The Slacker G2 is the second version of a portable Wi-Fi enabled music player from Slacker. The first part of this review is about the Slacker service itself, if you want to read about their new player, scroll down a bit.
Slacker is available through the web or their desktop player. With Slacker, you get access to over 100 channels of music, as well as the ability to create your own personal music channel, with artists and songs you select. In addition to listening to the Slacker service on your computer, you can also bring your favorite music along with you on the Slacker G2 portable player.
The Slacker G2 player is a Wi-Fi enabled music player that can download 25 or 40 Slacker channels directly to the device, ready for you to listen on the road. The player has 4 or 8GB of storage, depending on the version, which is more than enough for days of music for each channel. Think of it as a portable radio, with nothing but the music you want to listen to.
Once you have selected the music channels you like, using either the desktop or web based Slacker player, you simply let the Slacker G2 connect to a Wi-Fi network. Depending on how fresh the collection is on the device, you'll have a brand new lineup of songs in about 5 minutes.
On my Slacker G2, I picked 15 Slacker stations, and added 2 of my own custom stations. The predefined Slacker stations are some of the best I've come across; they cover everything from the usual 60's, 70's and 80's, to comedy, toddler music and several stations with hits from around the world. Unlike some online stations, where the music is picked by a big computer, Slacker actually employs real DJ's to help tweak the music lineup, and add the newest performers. In total, Slacker has over 2 million tracks in their collection.
The ability to create a custom radio station is fantastic; you build the new channel by selecting your favorite artists and/or songs; then you let Slacker add more music by fine-tuning the music you want to hear. You can have Slacker add more songs based on popularity of the track, the year and by including DJ picks. The end result is a radio station that plays nothing but the stuff you like. If by any chance you do end up hearing a song you don't like, you simply ban it, or if it is a track you like a lot, you can set it as a favorite and save it to your library.
Once you subscribe to premium radio, you'll be able to skip tracks as many times as you want (this is limited to 6 times per hour/per channel on the basic player). The premium version also removes the commercials and adds the ability to request an unlimited amount of songs to your custom radio stations. And finally; the premium version also allows you to save songs you hear on a radio channel to your Slacker library.
The Slacker premium radio service costs $7.50/month on an annual subscription, $8.33/month with a 6 month subscription or $9.99/month with a 3 month commitment. Each option comes with a free 7 day trial.
The Slacker G2 hardware
Included in the Slacker G2 box is of course the player itself, as well as a pair of premium noise isolating headphones with 3 sizes of ear pieces. Also in the box is a quick start guide, Slacker sticker, USB charger, a Mini-USB charging/sync cable and a rubber case with belt clip. All the parts are pretty high quality, and come with some nice little touches, like a Slacker logo on the USB cable.
The player looks quite stunning; the front is made of glossy plastic, so it'll of course become a fingerprint magnet. The sides are made of rubberized plastic, and the back is made of metal, with a raised Slacker logo.
The player has a 2.5 inch (240x320) color display, which takes up most of the front of the unit. Above the screen are the ban and favorite buttons, and below the screen you'll find the play/pause/power, skip and rewind buttons. I have to point out that you can not go back to a previous track if your are listening to one of the Slacker music channels, the back button only works with music coming from your saved library (this is a licensing issue).
On the top of the player is the volume control and the headphone jack. On the left is the mini-USB connector, and on the right is the scrollwheel, home button and a hold switch, for locking the buttons.
On the bottom of the Slacker G2 is a wide connector, not unlike that found on some other music players. The connector is for adding accessories which may be added in the future. I know what you are thinking, and no; it is not compatible with iPod accessories.
The portable player is always in perfect sync with the desktop and web players; if you add a new station, you can send it to the portable player, and the next time you connect, you'll receive it on your device. The same method works the other way around; if you are listening to a song on the train and press the favorite button, that song will appear in your desktop library next time you connect.
Another advantage of Wi-Fi syncing, is that Slacker pushes new firmware updates using the wireless connection, unlike other players where you have to connect the player to your PC and download an update file.
The player can be connected to your computer using the included USB cable, but that is only necessary for adding your own music which can be done with the Slacker desktop player, or with Windows Media Player.
The desktop player is only available for PC's. Mac users can of course still use the web player to select music and add music stations to their player.
The user interface on the Slacker G2 is nice and clean; there are no 5 levels of confusing menu's, nor does the device offer anything other than music; there are no games, no personal organizer and no video support. As soon as you turn the player on, you are in the main play screen; this screen displays the album art of the selected song, as well as the artist name, album and next artist in the current channel.
By scrolling down, you can select any of these items; selecting the album art displays any available information about the album including reviews and the release date.
Selecting the album name shows a list of the 4 previous songs, and allows you to go back and either ban or favorite/save that song. Selecting the artist name displays an artist biography provided by All Music Guide. These bio's can be pretty long for some of the more popular artists. Scrolling down below the current song information pulls up the Slacker menu, where you can select stations, the library, user playlists, the settings menu and the connect screen.
In the settings menu, you'll find the usual portable player stuff like the backlight timer, brightness, volume normalization and an equalizer with 10 presets.
Slacker / Devicescape
Slacker have teamed up with Devicescape to bring a Wi-Fi hotspot login service to the player. Since the Slacker G2 does not come with a full keyboard or web browser, many wireless hotspots would normally be inaccessible to the device. The Devicescape client bypasses the entire login process, and does all the work for you. Devicescape is currently compatible with hotspots from Wayport and AT&T. With this support, you'll be able to wirelessly sync the Slacker G2 player at your local McDonalds, Starbucks or other Wayport or AT&T hotspot location.
Pricing and availability
The Slacker G2 costs $199 for the 25 station/4GB version, and $249 for the 40 station/8GB version. You'll be able to find it at Slacker.com, Amazon.com and Buy.com and it will be on shelves at your local Best Buy later this month. When you order a player directly from Slacker, you'll be able to provide them with an existing Slacker account name, and you'll receive the player personalized for use, preloaded with stations from your own Slacker account!
Slacker for travelers
Since many of you are frequent travelers, I'll list some of the reasons I think the Slacker G2 is a perfect choice for you:
- No need to carry a laptop to update the player - to refresh the music on your Slacker G2, you simply connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- 15 hours of music playback - enough for a longhaul flight
- Player charges using a regular mini-USB charger - same charger used for many mobile phones
- No need to install software on your laptop - you can add new music and channels to the player and listen to that same music directly through your browser.
- All music provided by the service is legal - no worries if you use it on your corporate laptop!
- Player comes with premium noise isolating headphones
It is hard to describe how impressed I am with the Slacker G2 without coming across as an idiot. The player and accompanying service have totally changed the way I think of collecting music. With my iPod, I had gathered thousands of songs, put together from CD rips of my own collection, purchased tracks and "other sources". This entire collection has now been replaced by Slacker.
Their service streams all the music I like, directly to my desktop (or web browser), and I can take any of that music with me. The few songs I like that Slacker did not have in their collection can still be synced to the player using any MP3, WMA and AAC file I already own.
In addition to not having to own any music, I can also get instant access to any new music, plus I no longer have to waste hours sorting my songs and correcting file names, tags and album art.
At $199 (or $249), the player is more expensive than most other players in the market, but knowing that I'll never have to buy another CD again makes it worthwhile. There are other players on the market with a similar "all you can eat" format (like the Microsoft Zune and Zune Pass), but at $7.50/month, the Slacker service is cheaper and offers more features. The $90 for an annual subscription is what I used to pay every month for new CD's.
The Microsoft Zune is probably the only player worthy of being compared to the Slacker G2; it also offers Wi-Fi (though no wireless syncing outside the house until the upcoming firmware update). The differences between the Slacker G2 and the Zune are the price of the monthly service ($14.99 for Zune Pass), and that Slacker offers a far more integrated service (web, desktop, portable player). Slacker also builds their offering more around their music channels and custom channels, instead of just asking you to pick random music.
I'm no audiophile, but I found that the sound quality of the music on the Slacker G2 was much better than any other player I have owned in the past. Slacker clearly put some effort into the quality of the files they use, and the audio hardware in the device.
The device has a few quirks; when it is being charged, it always turns on, and stays on until it is done charging, and the desktop Slacker player can be a little finicky when you try and sync to the player over USB.
Of course, coming from an iPod will also mean no easy access to the thousands of accessories designed just for that player, I'm hopeful that companies will start designing products around the Slacker G2 pretty soon.
All in all, I can only say that this is my new portable music player. I haven't touched my iPod since I got my hands on the Slacker G2, and in the time I have been using the device, I have come across 100's of great new songs I had not heard before, and about as many songs I had forgotten about, and never managed to add to my collection.
If you like music, and would love to find new artists, I can highly recommend visiting Slacker and playing around with their web player, before you know it, you'll be dying to take that music on the road with you, on your own Slacker G2 player.
Filed under: Gadling Gear Review