MP3 players are great if you know what you like, own it, and want to listen to it exclusively. But what happens when you're sick of your music collection? Or when you're simply feeling lazy and want somebody else to do the programming for you?
Slacker has the answer: portable Internet radio. The company's been demonstrating its devices since the South by Southwest music conference in March, but it looks like the company's finally taking pre-orders.
You can get the basic idea just by visiting the Slacker home page, which has an embedded version of the software player on it. Choose from dozens of pre-set radio stations in the expected categories (classic rock, acid jazz, and so on) or program your own. Slacker's station-building process is much more customizable than Pandora, which uses educated guesses to build a station for you based on your favorite artist. With Slacker, you can add individual artists you like--imagine Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, and Mr. Bungle on the same station, which you'll never hear on your FM (or XM or Sirius) dial--and each time you add an artist, Slacker suggests several dozen other artists in the same category.
Today, the company launched a Premium service that has no commercials, lets you skip any song you don't want to hear, and save favorite songs to playlists.
But it's the portable players that could take the service from merely interesting to potentially groundbreaking. Not only will they function like a regular MP3 player (playing AAC and WMA files as well), but they'll also connect over any public Wi-Fi network or a USB connection and update the stations automatically. And a car kit planned for next year will let you connect over unused TV satellite bandwidth.
There are some potential stumbling blocks--for instance, how will it handle the sign-in screens required by some public Wi-Fi networks?--buthas gotten some hands-on testing time and didn't uncover any show-stoppers.
The devices will come in three levels of capacity: $200 gets you 15 stations with 500MB set aside for your personal collection, $250 gets 25 stations and 1.5GB for personal use, and $300 gets 40 stations and 4GB left over.