Making its debut at Texas' SXSW music fest is Slacker, a new hybrid music service that delivers music online, via satellite, or from any wireless hotspot. It's a pretty big package so we'll break it down to its simplest forms. So first let's check out the service. It's already up and running and free to anyone after a quick sign up. The service makes money through video ads, so naturally there's also a premium plan sans ads that goes for $7.50/month. Users in both camps can tune into any Slacker station (their DJs cover all the genres just like XM and Sirius) and you can vote to "heart" or "ban" songs from the station's playlist by simply pressing the appropriate icon. As an extra perk, you can also republish your music channels to your blog/website. Next comes the device, a sexy little player with enough features to put many of today's DAPs to shame....
It'll debut this summer in sizes ranging from 2GB to 120GB (prices will range from $150 to $350). It'll have a 4-inch screen with a touch-sensitive side strip for scrolling through your music. Like any other DAP, It'll play WMAs, WMVs, MP3s, etc, all of which you can load onto the player via USB. Here's where things get interesting. The device will also have built-in Wi-Fi so it'll sync up with your personalized Slacker stations wirelessy. You'll then be able to listen to them from any hotspot. Alternatively, you can listen to Slacker via a satellite broadcast system (you'll need the optional Slacker "car kit" for this) that'll beam the music to your player from unused commercial satellites. This is Slacker's own proprietary technology here at work, so you're not relying on Slacker's own satellites here.
So after spending the morning personalizing a few Slacker stations, I got a decent feel for the service. Quality-wise, music plays hiccup free with no lags or delays (and very little video ads, at least for now). More importantly, music sounds awesome for an online station. I'm not talking audiophile quality, but still pretty damn good. I found banning songs from stations to be pretty addictive/fun (free members can only ban 6 songs/hour) and I'm guessing this is how Slacker will rope people into paying for the premium service. Slacker's real test will come with the debut of their player. Is there a market for another DAP and will the Wi-Fi feature work as promised? If they deliver on the hardware front, they can consider me a full member. This is one space you'll definitely want to stay in tune with.