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Slacker: Net radio gets personal and portable

There's a new kid on the Internet radio block, and its name is Slacker. And it's going to have a little portable music player mate, too. Crave can't wait

There's a new kid on the Internet radio block, and its name is Slacker. Slacker is a brand spanking new service that provides completely free and customised Internet radio, based on whether listeners like ('heart') or dislike ('ban') particular tracks. Like similiar services such as Pandora and the excellent, the back-end system behind Slacker logs these music preferences and provides increasingly more refined radio stations for each individual user.

The result is a personalised radio service with 10,000 stations, cost-free, and accessible using any Web browser connected to the Internet, and soon via a desktop media centre akin to iTunes.

What's even more exciting about Slacker is the promise of a portable player later this year. The Slacker player is a very beautiful music device, with a large 4-inch screen, between 2GB and 120GB of storage and it'll automatically sync your radio stations, tracks and personalised preferences over Wi-Fi or a satellite connection, to its built-in memory.

This would allow Crave to carry a vast plethora of new music in our pocket in good old radio fashion, with the added advantage that it'll also carry our MP3 and WMA collection from our computers. Crave likes this muchly.

The free service comes with some minor restrictions. You're only permitted to skip through tracks on a radio station up to six times per station, per hour. If you skip six tracks and then dislike the seventh, you'll have to wait it out or pick another channel. Also, visual ads will be displayed on the player, though we're told they're suited to your music preferences, whatever that means. This can all be lifted with a $7.50 (£3.85) monthly subscription in the US -- around half that of existing services -- and will operate a Napster-like download subscription system, with the added benefit that you'll be able to save tracks you like to the player's memory.

But wait, there's more! A la carte song downloads will be available for $1, and an in-car device will become available that will utilise Slacker's satellite technology to keep your favourite stations pumping out new music 24/7. The founder of Slacker, Dennis Mudd, has big plans for Slacker integration in other devices as well: "We'd like to be able to port our Slacker Radio into as many other MP3 players as possible. We see Slacker Radio offered in cell phones, PDAs and car audio receivers, too."

This is all very promising and Crave can't wait to get hold of one of the new players -- released in the summer -- and try out the entire service. Details on UK availability are hard to come by: here's hoping we get our Slacker on soon. You can check out the basic radio streaming app now at -NL