One of the original reasons I decided to keep my talented, but flawed Blackberry Storm was that it was Rhapsody-Ready, meaning it could use the portable Rhapsody To Go music service so that I could stop carrying an iPod, plus my phone. It's a longer stor and later blog, but the Rhapsody To Go just doesn't work consistently well enough to recommend, unlike my amazing experience with the Rhapsody/Sonos/iPod Touch combination, which is earth-shattering (later post).
At the same time that I was getting rid of Rhapsody To Go, Slacker introduced its very cool caching Slacker Mobile Radio service. For those not familiar with Slacker, its CEO is Dennis Mudd, the former founder of music jukebox company MusicMatch, which was, hands down, the best multimedia/digital jukebox/internet radio software until Yahoo bought it a few years ago for lots of money, and then destroyed it, mostly by accident and neglect, and somewhat through plain stupidity.
Slacker's original mission (from what I can tell) was to build a very cool set of hardware that would allow a user to get a version of the great MusicMatch radio service onto a set of hardware that would allow a user to play it back offline, with no connection to the PC, satellite, etc, where they originally got the music. When the user later hooked up to the music source, the software would transmit the plays, the ratings (key part of software), and would then receive new music down to the Slacker hardware. This type of "offline interactive radio" is a special type of music and needs to be specially licensed from the set of labels, and it looks like Slacker did all of that work, and it raised tens of millions of dollars to build the buiness. It was actually a great idea until the multi-purpose IPod came along and destroyed that vision...
So while Slacker is rolling out this hardware, the iPod comes along, and is now followed by a variety of other smartphone players like Microsoft, Blackberry, Palm and Nokia, all of which are producing incredibly capable mobile hardware devices with lots of storage and Internet connectivity. So Slacker intelligently builds a free Blackberry version of its software - and the heavens open up.
I'm kidding, but the fact is that the new Blackberry Slacker software is game-changing - a user gets the same type of interactive radio that he/she would expect on a dedicated Slacker device, but it occurs on a Blackberry phone (needs big ass memory card, but most have it) and it works offline, which is 99.9% better than all Wifi-based applications on any device anywhere in the world. What this means is that unlike relying on the always uncertain 3G or Wifi service from Verizon, a user can download Slacker radio stations to the device itself, and the play it offline, not using any minutes or bandwidth from the phone carrier itself. This is game-changing - I want and now have the ability to just set a free radio music device (Storm) next to me on the way to Tahoe, and occasionally skip or recommend songs, confident that when I later sync the device, that more relevant songs will arrive - and it's all free, with a cheap subscription option granting more interactivity...
What do I mean? It means that I choose a bunch of radio stations, either popular genre ones like Country or I can choose specific ones like Matt Nathanson, and the Slacker system spits out a set of songs that match that radio station, and then it caches all of that music (many stations) on the ever bigger memory card on the phone - I can the play those songs without using the phone service or WiFi service - it's all already on the phone. You can skip and rate songs, among other features, but you have to listen to that stream of music vs choosing each song - when you sync up the phone to your PC, as many BB users do, the device uploads the songs, the preference, and then downloads the new songs.
How is the experience? The short answer is that since installing the Blackberry Slacker, I don't use any other music service on the phone, and I probably consume it 2-6 hours a day, every day (like I said, I used to run Rhapsody, so I like music) The long answer is that the service is technically easy to use and I'm huge fan of the music, but that it doesn't deliver the same breadth or quality as a Pandora or Last.Fm. The "new music" isn't that new and the "Rock Hits" feels stale, like it's a few months too old. These issues are apparently related to the type of license rights that Slacker has obtained, and it feels to me like even in the last few weeks that the overall music variety has been significantly increasing.
That having been said, I find myself increasingly using the Slacker service to the exclusion of other services like Rhapsody in the car & phone, so my view is that the cached radio service will probably satisfy 95% of the population, and Slacker does an amazing job of doing that vs almost any other service I know - it's a free, highly personalized, offline radio service - it's MusicMatch 2.0, and I highly recommend getting it.