Slacker portable player is finally here as alternative to iPod and Zune

slacker playerBack in early October we inquired about the missing-in-action Slacker Player, the portable device from the free Internet radio service that’’s taking a much different approach to digital music than the iPod or Zune. Where the heck was it?

Promised for the second quarter, the Slacker Player was nearing the end of the fourth quarter with nary an appearance. But Slacker just announced the availability of the player beginning Dec. 13, just in the nick of time for the Christmas rush.

The player, which was designed by Slacker and built by Taiwanese manufacturer Inventec, features a four-inch screen for displaying album art and bio information and a touch-screen scrollbar. It can play MP3 and WMA music files downloaded separately and comes in three sizes: 2 GB ($200), 4 GB ($250), and 8 GB ($300).

What’ interesting is that Slacker, which topped one million users in October, is attempting to attract customers through a different experience than Apple and Microsoft, the ones behind the market-leading iPod and high-profile challenger Zune.

“It’s entertainment at the push of a button,” J”onathan Sasse, Slacker vice president of marketing, told InformationWeek, “r“ather than downloading separate music files and managing playlists.””

slacker logoThe Slacker Player isn’t’ tied to a service that sells songs or albums, like iTunes or the Zune Marketplace, but rather streams music to the player over Wi-Fi networks at no charge, although the user must endure advertising.

Slacker offers a premium service for $7.50 a month with an annual subscription. The premium radio service carries no advertising, allows the user an unlimited amount of song skipping (restricted to six skips on the basic service), and favorite songs can be saved to play whenever, among other perks.

The Slacker Player will also connect through a wired connection via a Windows or Mac computer. Slacker’’s exclusive “DJ technology” will let users play their radio stations where ever they go, even if they are not connected to a network.

It’s certainly an approach that runs counter to the conventional way of thinking — the buy-your-music model favored by Apple, Microsoft, and others or the rent-your-music model from Rhapsody.

Once it ships, and people begin using the Player, we’ll see what happens. I seriously doubt people will be giving up their iPods or showing little interest in the just-available second-generation Zunes. But you got to give Slacker credit for trying a different approach. And who knows? Maybe they know something about music listeners that we don’t.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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