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Slacker Portable and Premium Radio coming soon...very soon

Slacker drops by the CNET offices with news of the long-awaited Slacker Portable and the corresponding ad-free Premium Radio service.

CNET Networks/Corinne Schulze

I'll tell you one thing: Slacker sure does like to drag out its buzz. Now, you tell me: Did it work? Or are you over it already? Actually, we should give them a little leeway for making us wait so long, for a couple of reasons. First, they're starting something totally new with the whole Wi-Fi/Satellite radio-hopping thing and worked out all the kinks, which in a configuration like this, can be time-consuming business. Second, it takes some serious negotiation (hence, time) to get the type of audio permissions they need. Still, all the waiting makes me anxious, so I'm pleased to finally have some fresh news to share about the Slacker Portable and the corresponding Web service.

Starting tomorrow, you'll be able to sign up for Slacker Premium Radio, which offers all the features of Slacker Basic Radio (the free one): more than 100 professionally programmed stations, the ability to create artist-based stations, and a selection of attribute sliders for customization. And, of course, you'll see some of the enhancements you would expect for fronting some of your cash.

Subscribers will not be bothered with ads or skip limits, and they will be able to save favorites to access for playback at anytime on the Web or on the device. You'll also be able to create custom playlists using your saved songs and, as with the Basic service, you can log on from any browser, anytime, anywhere. Slacker will also be activating the DJ feature for both types of accounts (this lets users decide whether to hear brief DJ intros for selected tracks).

Slacker Premium Radio comes in three price packages. You can pay up front for a year of service ($89.99), which amounts to $7.50 per month and is definitely not a bad deal, especially if you get the Portable to complement it. Users may also choose from a 6-month package ($49.99 total; $8.33/month) or a 3-month package ($29.99 total; $9.99/month).


Now, here's where I would like to say that you can plan to runn out to buy the Slacker Portable tomorrow. But, sadly, you still won't be able to get your hot little hands on one for a few weeks. However, Slacker will begin to take pre-orders for the device, and the company has released more information on the player. The design is largely the same as it was back in March. I had a chance to play with one, and the firmware has definitely improved. Plus, the strip on the left side of the face is touch-sensitive to allow for scrolling through lists. The Portable is quite a hefty player, owing to its 4-inch screen, and Wi-Fi and satellite antennae, but I'm happy to report that Slacker decided to go with a removable, rechargeable battery. It's only rated for a paltry 10 hours, but I forgive them a bit due to all the wireless activity that's required.

As originally announced, the Slacker Portable will work with both the Basic and Premium services, so you needn't pay a monthly fee to get content. However, you will get visual ads on the display with the Basic version. The player has dedicated Heart and Ban buttons on the left spine for personalizing stations on the fly, and you will be able to specify when you want the device to hop onto Wi-Fi or satellite to update your content on the go. Although the large screen would be great for video, Slacker is keeping it simple for now--the device supports MP3, AAC, and WMA audio and will display large album art, as well as artist biographies and photos. Plus, the Portable works with both Mac and Windows.

So let's get down to brass tacks, shall we? The Slacker Portable will be available in three configurations, priced at $199.99, $249.99, and $299.99. Nope, it ain't cheap. The base player has 2GB of memory and can host 15 stations (500MB is set aside for personal content). Next up is the 4GB version, which holds 25 stations and leaves you 1.5GB for your own stuff. Finally, at the high end is the 8GB Portable. This unit hosts 40 stations and keeps 4GB free for your use.