In the heavily saturated MP3 player market, sometimes it's best to choose a specific target audience and really go for it. One example of this can be found in the Slacker G2 Personal Radio Player, aimed at tech-savvy consumers with little time and patience for creating personalized playlists. SanDisk takes a different--and yet similar--tactic with its latest device, dubbed SlotRadio.
Rather than offering fancy wireless technology and the capability to tailor music to your liking, the SlotRadio provides an utterly simple and low-cost way to enjoy digital music; the $99 player includes a microSD card preloaded with 1,000 songs already arranged into playlists. The device is clearly not for everyone, but it could be just the ticket for mainstream listeners who balk at the idea of spending their time tailoring playlists (or for luddites who can't be bothered to learn the complexities of digital-music organization and transfer). And considering the relatively low cost of the songs overall, the SlotRadio could make a great secondary player for many people.
Music at a cost
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 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. SanDisk is unable to confirm specific songs on the card, but the company has been working closely with Billboard to offer selections from such artists as Akon, Brad Paisley, Coldplay, Fall Out Boy, Maroon 5, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Soundgarden, The Killers, T-Pain, Kanye West, No Doubt, Kenny Chesney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and U2. Going forward, SanDisk will offer a variety of genre- and theme-based songs. For example, you can pick up the Modern Rock card with '80s, '90s, punk, and so on, or the Daily Motion card with dinner time, barbecue, and road trip playlists.
For our part, we listened to the SlotRadio player for several weeks and found that the selections were pretty solid mainstream hits ranging from the '60s to today. In our estimation, we could tolerate about 80 percent of the songs, which isn't a terrible ratio. It's unlikely that anyone will like every song included on the card, but the average listener should enjoy most of the selections. Of course, you also have to factor in how long it will take before you get sick of listening to the same 1,000 songs; it will be different for everyone, and at least partially dependent on how often you use the player.
Naturally, there's also a catch in getting the songs so cheaply: you don't get to pick them yourself. Plus, they're locked to the microSD card, so you can't transfer them to your computer or any other device. You also can't toy with the order of the tracks, though of course you can skip the ones you don't like. However, while you can't move tracks around, the cards themselves are expected to be compatible with the Sansa Fuze and may work in other devices with microSD slots.
User-friendly to the extreme
The SlotRadio player has a nice, sturdy feel to it. 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. Two arrows flanking the screen allow you to cycle through stations, while a single FF key on the right edge can be used to skip tracks you don't like. The player also includes dedicated volume buttons (housed on the left spine), and the bottom houses the standard headphone jack and a mini-USB port for charging.
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 the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS), so it will display call letters and any other data (such as track name) that the station broadcasts along with its audio.
The SlotRadio comes with an AC power adapter that connects to the included USB cable, so there's absolutely no computer required to use the player. This is clearly part of the appeal of such a device; all you have to do is take the player out of the box and flick the switch to "play." However, if you so choose, you can pop a blank microSD card into the player and transfer your own music. In addition to the SlotRadio device, the package also contains earbuds, a protective silicone case, a jewel case, and a media case for storing the cards.
You've probably gathered that the SlotRadio player isn't for digital-audio enthusiasts. Predictably, it's also not for audio purists. Sound quality is about average: there's no background hiss or distortion, but bass is anemic and high-end detail is rather muffled. If you're after bright, crisp sound, you won't find it here. Still, the player suits its purpose, and we don't really expect excellent sound quality from such a device. It would be nice if the rated battery life were higher than 13 hours, though.