Product review – SanDisk Sansa slotRadio player

SanDisk has been making MP3 players for several years, they may not be as popular as the iPod, but they have always had a very respectable lineup of players with a decent chunk of the market.

Last year, Sandisk launched the slotMusic concept, which combined pre-loaded music with cheap players. The product lineup includes MicroSD cards with preloaded albums (for $14.99) or a small player loaded with music for $34.99.

The newest product is the slotRadio player, which is an 2″ x 2″ MP3 player with a twist. This $99.99 player features a 1.5″ OLED monochrome screen, built in FM radio, MicroSD card slot, clip and MicroUSB charger plug.
Included with the player is a MicroSD memory card pre-loaded with 1000 Billboard songs. The songs are sorted in 7 categories:

  • Country (George Stait, Kenny Chesny and others)
  • Contemporary (Coldplay, Maroon 5 and others)
  • R&B/Hip Hop (Akon, Chris Brown and others)
  • Alternative (Hinder, Kaiser Chiefs and others)
  • Rock (3 Doors down, U2 and others)
  • Workout (Bestie Boys, Fatboy Slim and others)
  • Chillout (Shakira, Sarah MacLachlan and others)

Now, purchasing this music on a service like iTunes or Amazon would cost you $1000, there is however a twist involved in getting this much music and a player for just $99.99.

You can not select individual tracks and each playlist is pre-programmed. You can skip a track, but you can not go back to a previous track, select a track as “favorite” or even pick a specific track.

If you hear a track you really like, and want to hear it again, you’ll need to skip 100′s of other tracks to find that one song you want.

This may seem like a horrible system, and when compared to an iPod it really is a step backwards, but when you look at the player as a radio, it isn’t that bad at all.

For starters, you don’t have to screw around with getting your hands on music. Acquiring music may not be an issue for experienced users, but there are plenty of people out there with an iPod and just 50 songs. The whole concept of ripping CD’s, buying $1 tracks or (don’t try this at home) downloading music on a P2P system is just too complicated for many users.

On the front of the player are 2 arrow buttons, which are used to switch between the various playlists. On the right side is a skip track button, on the left side are 2 buttons for controlling the volume and on the top is the MicroSD card slot and the power/fm/music selector switch.

When you switch from playlist to playlist, the player does remember the song you were listening to, which means you won’t lose your spot in the middle of a song if you want to listen to something in a different playlist.

So, how well does the system work? Quite well actually – I won’t pretend that your average MP3 user will be too excited by the concept of a pre-determined playlist with no way to pick an individual track, but if you just want a no fuss player loaded with songs, the slotRadio player gets the job done.

One thing that you will need to keep in mind is that even though the player is loaded with 1000 songs, there may be playlists you’ll never use, which means the amount of tracks you will actually like is much lower.

In my case, I don’t listen to R&B/Hip Hop, which means I lost about 150 tracks. Add to that the amount of tracks I find in the other playlists that I don’t like (and will skip), and the amount of actual songs I get is about 600.

Controlling the player is nice and simple, and even though you can’t pick a song you like, you can skip the tracks you really don’t want to listen to.

The player itself is very well made, it has a very slick die-case aluminum back with a clip. The display may only be monochrome, but it displays some nice animations matching the playlist you are listening to.

The player has a rated battery life of 13 hours, which should be enough to get you through a long flight.

Since the player has its own MicroSD card slot, you can add your own memory cards to it, but you will run into the same restrictions as with the pre-loaded cards – you can’t go back to a previous track, and you can’t pick an individual track.

The included MicroSD card has some free space which you can use for your own music (free space is enough for about one album).

The integrated FM radio is simple works quite well – it seeks and shows station/track information (using RDS) and allows you to store presets.

As I mentioned earlier, I see the target market for this player in people who just don’t “get” the whole ripping and buying concept. The slotRadio player makes life really simple. You simply purchase it, plug in the headphones and start listening to music.

Opening the box does bring me to one of the biggest complaints I have about the slotRadio player – it is packaged in a plastic clamshell that requires power tools to open.

In addition to this, it also has a metal shelf hanging tag, making it even harder to get to your player.

I understand the need for theft protection, but if someone purchases this at an airport (I do hope they add these to airport stores and vending machines), they’ll have to wait till they get home to open it.

One of the other things I noticed is the lack of a hold button, especially since you can’t go back to a track you really like, not being able to lock the player is quite an omission.

The SanDisk Sansa slotRadio player comes in a nice plastic carrying case along with some (pretty basic) headphones, the pre-loaded Billboard MicroSD card, a tiny USB charger, MicroUSB cable and a free silicone case. It is available directly from SanDisk for $99.99 and currently comes with a free travel case.

I really like the slotRadio concept, and I think that the low price combined with easy access to this much music will appeal to a pretty decent portion of the (non iPod owning) market.

Every single person out there who doesn’t want to mess around with software and monthly music subscription services will probably love the device. If SanDisk manages to keep providing updated slotRadio cards, then they’ll keep customers coming back for more music.