Speaking of music collections, the Slacker G2 can play back your own songs in MP3, WMA, and AAC format. But this is definitely an Internet radio portable that does MP3s on the side, not an MP3 player that does Internet radio: Space for your own songs is limited (1GB for the $200 model, 3GGB for the $250 one). And downloading is done via a standalone version of the Slacker player that works only in Windows, and which has only rudimentary music-management features, let along support for podcasts or audiobooks. Despite the fairly sizable color screen, the G2 also doesn’t do video.
Oh yeah, how about the quality of the music? It sounded pleasing enough with Slacker’s supplied earbuds, which the company describes as “premium” models, and a bit better with my own $35 headphones. (Disclaimer: I am not an audiophile and your ears may vary.)
The extremely cool Slacker Internet radio service in a newly compact, pocketable portable form; MP3 features are limited; I had trouble with public Wi-Fi connections; more of a satellite radio rival than an iPod killer.
Price: $200 (4GB) and $250 (8GB)
In the box: Slacker handheld, earbuds, USB cable and wall adapter, carrying case with removable clip, quickstart guide.
At the same time I was trying the new Slacker, I was using the fourth-generation iPod Nano, so I couldn’t help but compare ‘em. While the Nano doesn’t do Internet radio, it’s far smaller and more stylish than the plasticky G2; it offers twice the memory in both of its versions for $50 less each; it does more things and does all of them well. If you were to try and choose between them, you’d have to be a big fan of the serendipitous nature of Internet radio to opt for the Slacker. (Or, I suppose, someone who didn’t want to spend much on music after buying a player: If you stick with the free Slacker service, you can listen to endless music without ever paying so much as ninety-nine cents for a song download.)
The more I think about it, though, the more I think that the Slacker’s real competition is not the iPods and Zunes of the world–it’s satellite radios such as Pioneer’s $200 Inno. And here the G2 is a compelling alternative. For music, it offers almost everything I like about XM satellite and a lot more: You can tweak multiple stations to your exact preferences, and never have to worry about reception, and even the version with a monthly fee costs less than satellite. (I like news, sports, and talk, too, so I’m not trashing my XM receiver.)
And because the Slacker service is just plain wonderful, what I’d really like to do is get it on a device I already own and carry. The good news is that that’s no pipe dream: Last week, the company announced a partnership with RIM that will put Slacker music on BlackBerry handhelds starting in October. That could leave us iPhone owners feeling jealous of our BlackBerry-toting friends, and I hope it’s only the first wave of news involving Slacker being available on third-party devices.
Meanwhile, it’s really not all that hard to tell if the Slacker G2 might be for you. Try the Web-based service. (Actually, try it if you have no intention whatsoever of buying the handheld.) If you love Slacker in your browser enough to pay $200 or $250 for a device that makes it portable and doesn’t do much else, you may love the G2, if the issues I had with public Wi-Fi don’t get in your way. But I bet a whole lot more people will love it when and if it becomes available on a handheld device they already own.