No doubt about it: The Slacker radio service is the reason to get the Portable Player. Service is available via the Web Player or a software client download, which is necessary for those who want to transfer radio content via a physical connection. (The software isn't the best for organizing your personal music, but the device also works with Windows Media Player for those who prefer to transfer files that way.) The best part about the radio service is that you can get it for free--if you're willing to deal with some advertising (about 3 minutes worth of ads per hour at the top side) and a limit of six skips per station per hour. Alternatively, you can opt to pay for the Premium Service, which not only does away with the ads and skip limits, but also allows you to save individual tracks (using the Heart button) to the library on the player and also to your account online. The cost of this service is $9.99/month for a three-month chunk, $8.33/month for six months, or $7.50/month for a year.
Performance and whatnot
Clearly, the Slacker Portable Player is not your average MP3 player, and as such, there are several things missing from this device that you might expect from your standard portable. The Slacker player doesn't support photo display or DRM. It doesn't handle podcasts well or offer recording features. Naturally, there's no FM radio and you won't be watching videos on the awesome 4-inch screen. That's not to say that some of these features won't be added in the future, but for now, Slacker focuses on the music and, in this case, that's certainly not a bad thing. Also, it's worth noting that the Portable Player will offer another option for updating content wirelessly in the future: a car cradle with a satellite-hopping antenna. (There's something you don't see every day.)
For now, the Slacker device wirelessly updates via Wi-Fi through any WEP/WPA-protected network or select open networks. In testing, performance during these updates was relatively quick and suffered from few hiccups. However, open networks with a "terms and conditions" page don't work at this time--a firmware fix for this is due in the next couple of months. Processor performance in general was very speedy, except when switching between stations and library content, which was slow at times. Station updates via a computer connection took only a couple of seconds. Transferring personal content is a slower process, and we ran into some problems at first syncing long lists of tracks but were able to remedy this by creating playlists. The tested battery life of 8.9 hours is just appalling, especially considering part of this player's appeal is not having to plug it in constantly to get content.
Sound quality isn't really the Slacker Portable Player's strong point, and you'll definitely want to find a substitute for the included earbuds: They're uncomfortable and offer hollow sound. Swapping in a set of