Following the announcement that SanDisk will attempt a renaissance of physical music media in the form ofMicroSD cards, the company is set to release an ultracheap Sansa MP3 player made specifically for the new album format. Dubbed the SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Player (creative, eh?), the device will sell for $19.99 and is possibly the simplest MP3 player I've laid hands on. There are virtually no features, no screen, and no internal memory. Simply pop a slotMusic card into the MicroSD slot on the left edge of the unit, plug the included headphones into the standard jack on the right edge, and hit play. Songs play in album order; you can pause playback and skip through tracks using buttons on the bottom of the device, and, of course, there are volume controls (by the headphone jack), but that about sums up the player's capabilities.
In fact, you don't even need a computer to use the Sansa slotMusic Player, and the package doesn't include a USB cable--there's no syncing port on the device anyway. Instead, SanDisk includes a USB adapter that can be plugged into the computer for transferring content directly to and from the card, and rather than having a built-in rechargeable cell, the unit is powered by a single AAA battery (rated for 15 hours), which is concealed beneath a removable faceplate that wraps around the player. (SanDisk plans to sell a variety of these "shells" in the future.) Although the device has a hefty and durable feel, it's relatively compact at 2.7 inches wide, 1.4 inches tall, and 0.6 inch deep. Put simply, this is SanDisk's digital answer to the original Walkman or the more recent Discman, without the heft or the skipping. And while the product model doesn't appeal to me or many other tech-savvy MP3 player owners, it could be just the transitional device needed to push feet-dragging friends or family into the MP3 age. (It's only 20 bucks, after all.)
Device in hand, you'll have to get on board with the slotMusic cards themselves, which are packaged like a CD and include the 1GB MicroSD card and a USB adapter that will allow users to transfer the songs to their computers. They are positioned specifically to ease the transition from CD to MP3, but many will still have a tough time choking down the price tag: the cards come with an MSRP of $14.99. First-run retailers Wal-Mart and BestBuy will likely list the albums at lower price points, but I don't expect to see pricing below $10. Of course, CDs cost around 15 bucks, but some people may be understandably put off by the idea of shelling out for compressed music (files come in 320Kbps MP3). But--again--it's important to keep in mind that audiophiles are not SanDisk's or the labels' target audience with slotMusic. Also, consider the package price of $35 for a 1GB MP3 player with an album's worth of songs plus extras, such as album art, liner notes, and video--and generally plenty of space leftover for adding your own content, if desired.
Indeed, the slotMusic player will be available in a variety of branded "bundles." You can expect to see a Robin Thicke Bundle, an ABBA Bundle, and a "Don't Quit" Fitness Bundle (with a mixed playlist of songs) on shelves right out of the gate, with more variations likely to follow. Shells that come with the bundled players will be themed to match the included album. In addition to the aforementioned artists, SanDisk will be releasing slotMusic cards from Coldplay, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Buffet, Pussycat Dolls, and many more. There will also be a selection of worthwhile accessories, such as an armband for the player and--I applaud the foresight on this one--a Sansa Card Case for keeping track of the tiny new medium.
For my part, I'm extremely curious to see how the slotMusic player and cards do out in the marketplace. Would you buy this player for your grandma or your technophobe boss? How about for yourself, if you were in an airport and your iPod died? Am I the only one who thinks slotMusic is the worst name ever? I welcome your feedback below.