The first portable device to come out for the Slacker Web Player took nearly a year from beta to retail and fell a little flat with several consumers and industry experts, mainly because of its large and boxy design, an extraneous touch-strip control, and a satellite-hopping wireless function that never came to fruition. Fortunately, Slacker took its growing pains in stride and was quick to push out its follow-up device, the G2. The new portable flawlessly integrates Slacker's excellent free music service in an improved package with a super simple user interface. At $199 for the 4GB model and $249 for the 8GB, the G2 goes for a premium when compared with other MP3 players--especially considering the lack of extra features--but when you factor in the all-you-can-eat free-and-effortless (and legal) music aspect, it doesn't seem so pricey.
Hardware and design
Like with the first Slacker Portable Player, the G2's capacity doesn't function in the same way as your average MP3 player. The majority of the memory is set aside for stations, which are transferred from the Slacker service. The 4GB model accepts up to 25 different stations (with up to 2,500 songs), while the 8GB can take up to 40 (with up to 4,000 songs). However, you can also transfer MP3 or WMA files from your personal music library--up to 1GB for the 4GB player and up to 3GB for the 8GB. In true Slacker fashion, the device is only available in one color: black. We appreciate the solid feel, rubberized edges, and metal backplate complete with a raised Slacker logo.
Unlike the first Slacker device, the G2 is compact--measuring a pocketable 3.5 inches high, 2.2 inches wide, and 0.5 inch deep--and relies solely on a plentiful array of tactile controls. The ample 2.4-inch screen is flanked by play/pause and track shuttle keys on the bottom and Slacker's signature Heart and Ban buttons on the top (more on these shortly). A jog wheel on the right spine lets you navigate onscreen and through menus--pushing it in selects whatever is highlighted on the screen. For example, if the album art is highlighted, pressing in on the wheel will pull up an album review. A home button and hold switch also reside on the right edge, and a standard mini USB for charging and (minimal) syncing is housed on the left. Dedicated volume buttons--which lagged a bit during testing--and a standard headphone jack line the top of the G2, and a 30-pin connection for future accessories lives on the bottom. While we appreciate dedicated controls for everything, we found ourselves trying to use the jog wheel to adjust volume and pushing in vain at the small Slacker logo on the front as if it were a joystick for navigation. The setup isn't entirely intuitive, though once you get used to it, it's not too bad.
Interface and music service
On the other hand, the Slacker G2 onscreen interface is innovative yet simple. On the main playback screen, huge album art dominates the entire screen. The station name and a battery meter takes up a fraction at the top; the track name, artist, a time-remaining bar, and the next artist are laid over in small text at the bottom. Scrolling to the very bottom of the screen automatically pulls up the last menu you were in, pushing the song info up and mostly out of sight at the top. The main menu is unsurprisingly sparse given the G2's relatively few functions. There are selections for stations, library, playlists, and settings. There's also a connect option, which lets you update firmware and refresh the songs on your saved stations anytime you are in range of a Wi-Fi connection that is open or for which you have the key.