SanDisk tries to bring the radio concept to your own music collection. (April 11th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: SanDisk
Price: $99 with slotMusic card
- very simple; no PC needed.
- compact, sturdy design.
- FM radio.
- drag-and-drop loading from PCs.
- good battery life.
- counter-intuitive controls; can't skip back.
- limited format support.
- microSD cards are easily lost.
- slotMusic library too focused on pop music.
loading music, the slotMusic catalog, and FM
If you subscribe wholly to the ideas behind slotMusic, loading music is simple: turn the player off, insert a new card, and turn it back on. SanDisk has been working with major labels to get albums and mixes put into slotMusic format, and when you use a pre-made card, everything is already organized into multiple playlists and with the right track order.
Used this way, it works well. The challenge is in finding the songs themselves. Out of the box, SanDisk is relatively generous and pre-supplies a card with 1,000 tracks; but they're all top Billboard artists, and those stand-alone slotMusic cards that are available are either individual Top 40 albums or collections of those artists. Without significant dips into lesser-known music or into less mainstream genres like classical, electronic or jazz, it's hard to see many people investing heavily in slotMusic cards if they don't already have a substantial library.
Thankfully, it's possible to load your own music, though it's not necessarily as simple as SanDisk suggests. Drag-and-drop loading works as easily as promised and works across all platforms. Just copying songs, though, won't let you sort tracks by albums or playlists, so it will usually be necessary to use an app to sync that creates playlists on its own. Very generalized apps like Windows Media Player or WinAmp are options, for example. That said, it also somewhat defeats the point of a largely hands-off music device to carefully manage music; if most of your songs will come from your computer, it's either best to load one album or mix at a time or else to consider a more complex device.
Of course, the device wouldn't earn its name without its FM radio, and this provides another free source of constant music. The control is simple enough and allows presets, but there is no RDS data (that we can tell) for stations that support it. It's a handy adjunct for a player where users are more likely to run out of their own music.
audio quality and battery life
As would be expected with a player in its price range and focus, the slotRadio comes bundled with low-cost, over-ear earbuds. They're typical in audio quality for pack-in earbuds, but as a consequence they're strictly adequate rather than outright pleasing.
With higher-quality in-ear earbuds, the slotRadio sounds far better, though we wouldn't say they're the best we've heard. The high-end and low-end aren't quite as well-defined as on some more expensive devices, like the iPhone or the Sansa Fuze. It's understandable and arguably acceptable given the price and the file quality of slotMusic, but it's something to be aware of.
Battery life a strong point for the slotRadio and fairly impressive for a small device that still fits a screen. Officially, the player lasts for 16 hours; we were able to get just over 15.5 hours. That's certainly better than the 10 hours claimed for an iPod shuffle, which doesn't have a display to drain extra power.