Walter S. Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal technology reporter known by many as Uncle Walt, got his hands and ears on a prototype of the once-again-delayed Slacker Personal Radio. His verdict: buggy.
Mossberg describes the player as “chunky, black plastic” and “dominated” by a four-inch color screen. It provides a rich listening experience: the sound is good, the Wi-Fi connection worked in both Walt’s home and office, and included were album art, other photos, artist bios, and album reviews.
These were overshadowed by the bugs detailed in Walt’s review. “The two prototype Slacker units I tried, however, were hobbled by bugs and glitches that the company must expunge by the release date.” Mossberg notes that Slacker is aware of the glitches and is working to fix them.
What caught my eye — over and above the bugginess — was how Mossberg characterized Slacker’s positioning of the product. He notes that 100 million music fans know the joys of owning portable digital music players, but to get the most out of these products he says takes too much effort or money for some people.
Slacker, Mossberg writes, is a device for the more passive, budget-minded music listener. It contains preprogrammed Internet radio stations instead of the songs and albums you select. The music is “free”, unless you pay for a $7.50/month premium account. The player costs between $199 and $299, depending on storage capacity.
Additionally, Slacker is based on Internet radio standards, meaning that there are limitations imposed on the listener. You can’t specify a song, or skip back to repeat a song. You can only fast forward ahead six times per station per hour. And the songs by the artists you’ve selected will be played four times every three hours.
That sure seems to go against the trend of personalization and customization we see today in consumer products, especially digital music players like the iPod or Zune.
Granted it takes time to hook up the device to a computer, purchase and download songs, rip your own CDs, transfer music to the portable player, and make playlists. But it’s the music you want to hear and how you want to hear it, not some preprogrammed Digital DJ.
Slacker may fix the bugs Uncle Walt talks about, but I am not sure it can fix its business model. Are there really that many people who want to take a passive role in the music they listen to?