Archives For Reviews

Evaluating Slacker Premium

Mari Silbey —  November 18, 2008 — 8 Comments

I’m a well-documented Slacker junkie, but it’s only recently that I’ve started testing Slacker’s premium service on my first gen player. The subscription cost is just high enough to make me squeamish, but a free trial can’t be ignored. And, in true Slacker form, I’m finding the latest update to my music experience addictive.

A Slacker premium subscription gives you two critical features: no limit on skipping songs, and the ability to save songs you add to your favorite list. Both features have significantly improved my treadmill workouts. For example, I (embarrassingly) love the Today’s Hits station when I’m running, but sometimes I get a string of slow songs. Not ideal, but it’s no problem when I can skip as many songs as I like.

The song-saving feature is even more appealing. Would I ever have thought to download Jay-Z’s mash-up with Linkin Park’s song “Numb”? Nope. And yet now it’s on my go-to playlist for when my run starts to falter.

At $9.99 a month ($8.33/mo for six months; $7.50/mo for twelve months), the Slacker premium service edges into the category of a monthly expense I’d like to live without. But on the other hand, if I were to spend money on any subscription music service, this would be it. I’ve never even been tempted by subscription music offerings before. Slacker keeps moving digital music in the right direction.

The Slacker G2 Review

Mari Silbey —  September 30, 2008 — 13 Comments

When Slacker’s G2 Internet “radio” launched I found myself impressed with the hardware redesign, but figured I wasn’t in need of an upgrade. My Slacker unit functions basically identically to the G2, and I’ve never minded the size. Why spend the money for a shiny new toy I don’t need?

Then my G2 review unit arrived.

Setting aside size for a moment, Slacker has improved several aspects of their portable device that aren’t easily conveyed in a bulleted list of features. The interface is much faster. Lag time was only a minor annoyance before, but with it corrected, I’m not sure I can go back to the old way. The audio quality is much better. Again, it’s not that the sound was bad before, but it’s certainly clearer now – and there seems to be much more volume flexibility, which I find very useful on a noisy treadmill. The buttons are easier to manage. It may just be the smaller size, but all the buttons seems better positioned for use. The “Favorite” and “Ban” buttons are definitely more convenient on top of the device.  The new earphones rock. I actually ditched the earphones from my original Slacker device because they wouldn’t stay in my ears. The new ones do. The new case is even decent. Rubber instead of the old cloth, and form-fitting instead of blocky.

And finally there’s the size. The Slacker G2 is perfectly snug in my hand. I thought the angled sides on the original Slacker device were cool, but the rounded edges on the G2 make it perfect for the palm.

Of course, there’s also all of the killer Slacker software functionality on the new G2. Customized radio stations available offline. If you have an online Slacker account, the company will even pre-program and load your device so it arrives populated with your stations. This is a great way to get past the first annoying device update. Once a station is loaded initially, the refresh times aren’t bad. You can also drop your own MP3 files on to the Slacker G2 to complement your radio stations. Always good to have a few go-to songs when the mood hits you.

All in all, I have a feeling I’ll soon be plunking down the cash for a new G2. They’re due out in Best Buy in October.

Sling Media’s Slingbox PRO-HD is now shipping. What makes this box unique is the ability to broadcast home video content in true HD – both within the home and beyond.

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Like what you’re listening to? Share it wirelessly with a friend. That’s the premise of the new i2i Stream from Aerielle, which lets you stream music from one music player to a second set of unattached headphones. One device in the i2i Stream package plugs in to your music player and allows it to broadcast. The second (they’re interchangeable) plugs in to a regular set of headphones and acts as a receiver.

I received the i2i Stream review unit a couple weeks ago, and since then I’ve had great fun sharing music from my Slacker portable and from several different generations of household iPods. Once you get past the initial charging session, which is painfully slow with a USB-PC connection, the i2i Stream is simple, small and convenient. I haven’t had a single problem connecting the devices to my various music players or making them stream music to remote headphones. Add to that the appealing colored lights that indicate broadcasting frequency, and the i2i Stream makes for a fun if kitschy gadget. Even the audio quality broadcast over the 2.4Ghz frequency, which other reviewers have complained about, struck me as reasonable. Certainly good enough for casual listening.

Unfortunately, I’m still trying to come up with a good reason to buy the i2i Stream. Sure it’s fun, but when do you really need to stream your music to someone else? Most people have their own players and want to listen to their own music. There’s also no shortage of speakers and adapters for plugging in portable players when you do want to share, albeit in a more public fashion. Continue Reading…

I’m impressed with the D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player’s interface and ease of use and the playback quality for formats supported out of the box. There is a market for this type of device, similar to Apple TV, and there’s compelling online content that will appeal to many with this media extender. Unfortunately that online content is relatively scarce. A bigger issue is the default restriction to only DivX video or MP3 and WMA audio, which limits this product to those who either already have encoded the bulk of their collection as DivX or who take the time to “hack” the unit to stream other formats. In talking with a DivX representative, I’ve learned that they are planning to provide additional format support. In fact, the next version of the server software will support Flash video support, which should help quite a bit with online content in particular.

I can recommend this device with qualifications. If you have a large DivX collection or are just starting out and like the concept of all video on DivX then this is definitely a very desirable media extender for you. If you don’t fit into that category, I still encourage you to consider the device for it’s nice interface and strong potential for online video and other online content. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Read the rest of this entry at Brent Evans Geek Tonic »

Hands On With Eye-Fi

Dave Zatz —  May 12, 2008 — 10 Comments

I’ve had the Eye-Fi on hand for a few months now, and generally speaking, I’m a believer.

This agnostic 2GB WiFi SD card ($100) allows most digital cameras to store and wirelessly transmit JPEG photos to both a local Mac or Windows PC and one of many online destinations (Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, etc). It’s the perfect tool for the lazy blogger (that’d be me) or tech novices (like my mom) – removing the need for card readers or USB cables and manual imports. Though I wouldn’t recommend the Eye-Fi to those regularly shooting hundreds of photos, as WiFi uploads are slower than your existing transfer methods and camera battery life will be impacted. I’ve been mostly satisfied using the card for shooting and transmitting blog photos… Pics are conveniently uploaded into iPhoto on my MacBook Pro and into my Flickr account (as a backup archive).

My older Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 has experienced the occasional prob: Sometimes after attempting to snap a pic, the camera fully extends and then retracts the lens in a sort of zoom cycling – and unfortunately, an image is not captured. A nice-to-have feature that I’d like to see integrated into the very nice software interface and service is the ability to send my phone a text message once the current batch of photos has finished uploading (so I know it’s safe to turn off the camera). I’d also like a way to transmit videos, and I’ve noticed others looking for RAW support – though I’m not sure those folks fall within the typical Eye-Fi demographic.

Today, Eye-Fi is announcing the expansion of their product lineup. The card I have is being re-branded the Eye-Fi Share (still $100), providing both computer and online service uploads. At the lower-end, the Eye-Fi Home ($80) facilitates only camera -> local computer transmissions. At the high-end, the forthcoming Eye-Fi Explore ($130) will geotag all photos and adds Wayport hotspot uploads (free the first year, $19/yr thereafter). While the geotagging feature is pretty cool, until/unless Starbucks hotposts (AT&T or T-Mobile) are added, I’d purchase the Share card… which I’m surprised they’re not offering (yet?) in 4GB capacities.

Overall, I’ve appreciated what the Eye-Fi offers and it’s one of the few review products I’ll purchase once the loaner has been returned or raffled off.

Slacker Portable 1

I’ve been living with the Slacker Portable device for about six weeks now and have accumulated a slew of thoughts/insights/revelations on what I like and don’t like about the music player. In case you’re really ADD or just don’t have the time to read the details, here’s the bottom line: the functionality of the Slacker Portable is phenomenal, and far outweighs the hardware and software quirks that come along with it.

First, if you’ve never used the Slacker service online, go check it out. It’s like other customizable Internet radio applications (Last.fm, Pandora), but the personalization tools are particularly flexible and produce great results. So far, having a Slacker Portable is just like carrying the online application around in my pocket, and I don’t need a constant broadband connection.

Like Slacker’s online service, you can use the Slacker Portable to create custom Internet radio stations, or select from DJ-derived stations based on genre. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi, which you can use to transfer station content to the device any time you’re in range of an open wireless network. (No feature yet to enable connections to password-protected networks) In a brilliant move, the Slacker folks let you pre-load your device with stations from your online account when you order it. This is nice because otherwise the first-time download of music via Wi-Fi takes hours. Content refreshes are much faster.

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