We see hundreds of MP3 players come through CNET that attempt to dethrone the industry-leading iPod by integrating a suite of sophisticated features into a humble case. We have to hand it to the $129 Venzero Slickr for attempting the opposite approach: a product with a rich design, but no features to write home about.
There's no denying the Slickr's stunning design. Its iPhone-esque aesthetic, uncluttered screen, and metallic trim are absolutely drool-worthy. A designer with refined taste must have selected the silky, matte-black, rubberized finish on the player's back and sides, for instance. Otherwise, however, the Slickr is behind the times. Venzero's disconnect between form and function makes the Slickr feel like a Lamborghini running on a Ford Festiva's engine. But we'll get to that later.
The Venzero Slickr measures 3.25-inches wide by 2.25-inches tall by 0.33-inch deep. Its color TFT, QVGA display measures 2.8 inches diagonally, taking up the majority of the Slickr's face. The screen is capable of displaying 1.6 million colors at a resolution of 320x240, and it does a fine job presenting crisp, rich photos.
Venzero's choice to leave navigation controls off the front of the Slickr makes it an elegant video playback device and helps thwart fingerprint smudges. Unfortunately, there's a price to pay for beauty. Unlike the iRiver Clix, one of the first players to successfully remove navigation by using a unique touch-control, and products such as the Cowon D2 and the iPhone, which use touch screens, the Slickr simply crams all its navigation controls into a series of small, black, virtually indistinguishable buttons along the top of the device. Granted, each button is embossed with an icon that denotes its function, but you will need to be skilled in Braille if you want to operate the Slickr in a dark room.
On the bright side, we do appreciate the Slickr's use of a standard mini-USB port (instead of some proprietary cable nonsense), and the inclusion of an expandable SD flash-memory slot is fantastic. Take note, however, that the Slickr uses the less-common miniSD card instead of standard SD or microSD. With the Slickr's built-in 2GB of memory and a miniSD card (up to 4GB), it's possible to bring the total memory of the device up to a respectable 6GB.
While the Slickr's design borrows a page from Apple, its features run more in line with a budget Coby player. Video, music, radio, photos, voice/line recording, a game of Tetris, a unique service called MusicMarker, and a text reader, round out the Slickr's seemingly versatile list of features. Once you scratch the surface, however, it becomes apparent that many of the features are still living in the media player dark ages.
The Slickr's music player feature is the worst offender. The Slickr plays unprotected MP3, WMA, and WAV files, but leaves out support for ID3 tag information and DRM-protected music (purchased or subscription). While lack of DRM support is a forgivable sin, lack of ID3 tag sorting isn't--at least not on a MP3 player over $50. It's hard to find a MP3 player these days that does not allow you to browse your music collection by artist, album, song title, or genre. Instead, the Slickr only allows you to browse your music using a file directory, so be sure your music files are well organized before transferring them. Lack of ID3 tag support also means that artist, title, and album information do not display during playback. The filename of the current track is the only hint the Slickr gives you for figuring out what's on. Playlists and file bookmarking are also a no-go. You could spend less than $50 to find a better MP3 player than the Slickr. On the bright side, the Slickr's drag-and-drop simplicity means that it is both Mac and PC compatible, and it can also be used as an external storage device for moving files between computers.
To be fair, the Slickr was really designed to shine as a video player. In this respect, the player is serviceable. With better all-around players such as the Cowon D2 or iRiver Clix 2 falling in the same price range, however, the Slickr's capable video player is just not enough to justify the purchase.
The Venzero Slickr sounds OK, but audio quality isn't stunning. A five-band equalizer with six presets and a user-definable setting helps lend playback some sparkle, but each band of the equalizer only offers three degrees of cut or boost--so don't expect much subtlety. The multiregion FM radio performed well around the office, picking up most commercial radio stations with little interference. Also, the radio station auto-detect function worked quickly and accurately. We wish the Slickr offered radio recording, but it's not a deal breaker. It does offer voice and line-input recording, but neither feature seems polished. Because the headphone jack doubles as the line-input, there's no ability to monitor your recording or check volume levels. This is a fairly common design flaw that's usually remedied by providing some sort of visual feedback to indicate that the device is receiving an input signal--but not with the Slickr. You do get an option for either high quality or normal quality recording, but both options seem to create the same 32kHz, 258kbps stereo WAV file. Encoding to a compressed MP3 or WMA file (like the Cowon iAudio 7) would have been preferable, especially for a player with such limited capacity.
Video performance is really the crown jewel of the Slickr, and the only reason to consider purchasing it. The video player supports common AVI files with a resolution of 320x240. Venzero includes a basic, yet capable video converter application with the Slickr that can convert most video files to the required specifications. The application isn't exactly swift, but with so many popular video converters floating around, there's a good chance you can find a workaround. We compared the video quality against our video iPod and enjoyed the Slickr's slightly larger screen. Our two main criticisms of the Slickr's video performance are its poor viewing angles and lack of video bookmarking.
Our tests of the MusicMarker song recognition feature matched the mostly positive experience we had with the standalone MusicMarker product. The Slickr's text viewer and video game (Tetris) are nice to have, but by no means make up for our disappointments with the MP3 player. Although the Slickr scored an unimpressive 9 hours of audio playback, it held up to a healthy 6 hours of video playback during our CNET labs battery-drain test."
There's no denying that the Venzero Slickr is an exquisite-looking piece of technology and a relatively capable portable video player. Unfortunately, the frustrating user interface and lack of common music player features make it a second-tier device.