The short of it is that the Slacker
is an intriguing concept and decent product with some serious bugginess in the prototypes -- which is why it's probably a good thing it's been delayed until next year
. Walt Mossberg has been kicking around the "blocky" player and related service, and seems to think the idea has some legs. The player is basically a portable WiFi internet radio, but it ties in closely with the free ad-supported Slacker service to give you a bit more of control over your listening experience than a traditional internet radio station. You can navigate the device with either the touch-sensitive strip beside the screen or a scroll wheel on the edge of the unit, and Walt found the sound quality good and WiFi capable. Album art, related photos, artist bios and album reviews are all included with the music and shown off on an expansive 4-inch screen, and the stations are saved to the device for offline listening. You can create custom stations based on artists you like, and if you shell out $7.50 a month for premium service you get unlimited song-skipping (usually limited to six per hour), zero ads, and the ability to pick songs to save to the device and play as often as you'd like. You can of course load your own tracks, but that sort of defeats the purpose of being a "slacker." Mossberg thinks the formula could work as long as Slacker can work out the sub-par battery life, touch strip issues and connection problems before the January 31st launch.