What can I say? I'm a big fan of gadgets that play into my inherent laziness. You may have figured this out while reading my various accounts of Slacker's Internet radio service and MP3 player. Now, SanDisk is following Slacker's line of thinking, albeit with a much more basic premise that involves simplicity and a low-cost device, rather than fancy wireless technology and the capability to tailor music to your liking. Instead, SanDisk's new MP3 player, dubbed slotRadio, uses preloaded microSD cards filled with 1,000 handpicked songs arranged into playlists. The device is clearly not for everyone, but for mainstream listeners who balk at the idea of spending their time tailoring playlists, it could be just the ticket. And considering the relatively low cost of the songs overall, the slotRadio could make a great secondary player for many people.
So what exactly is the cost? It breaks down to about four cents per song. Each slotRadio card includes 1,000 songs and carries an expected MSRP of $39.99. The device itself comes with a Billboard top tracks card that offers seven playlists--Alternative, Contemporary, Country, R&B/Hip-Hop, Rock, Workout, and Chillout--and will sell for $99.99. Of course, the catch in getting the songs so cheaply is that you don't get to pick them yourself, and they're also locked to the MicroSD card, so you can't transfer them to your computer or any other device (although the cards are expected to be compatible with with the Sansa Fuze). You also can't toy with the order of the tracks, though of course you can skip the ones you don't like. In my two weeks of using the slotRadio player, which included a preproduction card that had a mishmash of decade- and genre-based stations, I found that the selections were pretty solid mainstream hits ranging from the '60s to today. Going forward, SanDisk will offer cards geared towards specific genres--all rock subgenres, for example--as well as themed versions, such as decades and moods.
As for the slotRadio player, our preproduction model has proved to be a pretty sturdy little device. It measures 1.9 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep, is constructed mainly of aluminum, and includes a built-in belt-clip, a popular feature according to SanDisk's research. A small black and white screen on the face of the player displays the station name, current track, next track, and an animated graphic themed to match the current station. Clicking on one of two arrows flanking the screen cycles through stations, while a single FF key on the right edge skips tracks. Dedicated volume buttons live on the left spine, and the bottom houses the standard headphone jack and a mini USB port for charging. The slotRadio includes an AC power adapter that connects to the included USB cable, so there's absolutely no computer required in order to use the player. The package also contains earbuds, a protective silicone case, a jewel case, and a media case for storing the cards.
The final physical attributes encapsulate the slotRadio player's few features. There is, of course, the microSD card slot, which can not only accept slotRadio cards, but also the album-based cards designed for the slotMusic player and any other microSD cards that you have loaded with music. There's also a power switch with three settings: off, FM, and play. Flip it to play, and your slotRadio card automatically resumes playback. The FM mode takes you to the integrated FM tuner from where you can set presets and scan frequencies. The device is compatible with RBDS, so it will display call letters and any other data (such as track name) that the station broadcasts along with its audio.
Now, the slotRadio could never be my main MP3 player--I'm a bit too much of a control freak for that--but I appreciate it as the lazyman's (or woman's) device, or as a secondary player for the gym. Still, the fact that the cards are static--meaning you can't update them as new music comes out--is a bit of a problem in my book. What do you think? Does getting music in such a cheap and legal way make it worth it?