The Gadget: Slacker G2, a slimmer, updated version of the original Slacker portable internet radio player. The Price: $200 for 25-station 4GB, and $250 for the 40-station 8GB unit. The free service is ad-supported and allows six skips per hour, while the premium service costs about $10/month and is ad-free, offers unlimited skips and the ability to save songs to the device.
The Verdict: The Slacker G2 looks a million times better than its first-gen sibling. The older player was bigger and thicker than a deck of cards, with poorly placed buttons and a capacitive touch strip that felt somewhat cheap. The G2 trims the fat from the device, leaving a screen just big enough to show album art, and controls that are far more intuitive than its predecessor. The 2.4" display is clear, text is very readable, menus are simple and it's about as tall and thick as an iPod dock (but much lighter), a good size for the hand. For this portable Pandora-style player to succeed, it needs two things. The first thing is, it needs a great selection of songs, tailored to the user's tastes. In this respect, it's awesome—even pre-programmed stations (think satellite radio rather than Pandora) have a wide ranging and thoughtful collection of artists, and stick mostly to singles or fan favorites so you don't get many strange deep cuts. Custom built stations (which you have to create in the web player) are even better. In both cases, you can favorite or ban song suggestions that you don't like, but if you design a station with more than 200 songs, you won't get any outside suggestions (though you probably no longer count as a true "slacker"). The other thing the G2 absolutely needs is a solid connection for refreshing stations. Sadly, this is where it falls short. A full refresh took almost two hours; stations took at least 10 or 15 minutes apiece to download. Adding a custom station for the first time took forever, and so did refreshing stations that I listened to often, favoriting and banning many songs. You can't refresh one station at a time—only all stations at once—and you can't create stations directly on the device either. I'd love to see these two things in a firmware update. Slacker may have shown us its more viable future in smartphone software with its recent BlackBerry announcement. Still, with some software tweaks and better networking, the company could make the G2 a decent alternative for those who fear convergence. [Slacker]