Last Updated on Sunday, 11 April 2010 12:06 Written by Tom Krehbiel Thursday, 01 October 2009 16:42
SanDisk's new Sansa slotRadio is a frustrating product. The company introduced it at last January's CES and I believe I had the first appointment on the first day. I was very much looking forward to it. I had received prior notification and from the information that I had, it looked to me like SanDisk had come up with a crafty and canny variation on the MP3 player genre.
First off, it's small and retails for under $100, like Apple's iPod Shuffle, for instance. But unlike most other MP3 players, the slotRadio has no internal storage whatever. In iPod (and most other MP3 player) terms, it's a 0GB device. That's where the "slot" part comes in.
The intended application for the slotRadio is to play music that has been pre-recorded on microSD cards. In fact, your first program comes packed in the box with the slotRadio. It has 1000 songs on it grouped into playlists of various genres: Alternative, Chillout, Country, Contemporary, R&B Hip-Hop, Rock, and Workout. Billboard magazine is involved in the programming selections. I'll have more to say about that later.
A card with 1000 songs costs about $40. That's 4 cents a tune. But you don't get to choose which song you might care to listen to at any moment. You see, the slotRadio behaves somewhat like an actual radio.
If you have a bunch of pre-programmed cards, you can choose which to put in the slot, but from then on Billboard pretty much takes over. You can jump from one playlist to another and you can push a button to skip a song you don't like much. But you can't skip back to listen again to a song that you do like a lot. Of course, it will come around again eventually, and if it's toward the front of a playlist, it will be easy to get to. You can also pause playback.
The slotRadio has an over-the-air FM tuner built in. SanDisk puts them in pretty much every MP3 player it produces and they generally work really well. I've read good reports about the one in the slotRadio.
You can also burn music onto blank microSD music cards and use them with the slotRadio. You still won't be able to do much in the way of selection. That can, however, essentially turn the slotRadio into a 4GB or more player for your own music. (I don't know if it supports microSDHC).
But that's not the point, and it's where SanDisk has missed the point.
What they've come out with here is a device that eliminates the need to download, rip, dump, or otherwise transfer music in order to listen to it. As such, it's great for the non-tech-savvy crowd. Being of a certain age myself, I hesitate to mention that the crowd cited tends to be somewhat older than those who might welcome cards full of the genres listed above.
Where's the bebop? Where's the opera? Where's the classic country? Where's the chamber music? Dixieland? Broadway hits? Easy listening? Folk music? Celtic tunes? Symphonies? New Age? Latin? Classic blues? Kid songs? Or to put it another way, where are all the channels you can find on Sirius, XM, or the music channels delivered by cable TV providers?
I phoned up SanDisk and put the question to them. The reply was that they want to appeal to the mainstream. Well, the mainstream is loading up iPods, downloading from iTunes, searching out P2P sites, and toting hard drives to friends' houses for music swap sessions. Those are precisely the people that are not going to be terribly interested in the slotRadio.
SanDisk needs a better view of who their potential market is. They do say that more varieties of music will be coming out on the cards, for now the claim is that the cards go "From country to rock and everything in-between." You know what? That's not a lot of everything.