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.
On the surface, the slotRadio is a compelling concept. It's the music player you can give to a technically inexperienced parent or to a child who might easily lose a player or who needs simple controls. The appeal of a radio-like control scheme is obvious; Slacker has built a whole device around that concept. SanDisk as always understands construction and makes transferring music relatively easy.
Even so, it's hard to entirely understand the motivations behind the slotRadio's particular design. If the music is yours, you should have control over it; taking this away seems arbitrary. One of the very advantages of digital music players is being able to cycle back and forth through songs. Especially when combined with controls that themselves run against instincts, it actually feels as though the slotRadio is a captive of the radio idea rather than freed by it.
Moreover, there's the question of whether this is the direction music players should take in the first place. One of the very advantages of strictly digital music is that it doesn't require individual cards, discs or records; a player like SanDisk's own Sansa Fuze (which we very much liked) can hold some listeners' entire music collections without ever needing a card, and online stores mean never having to worry about losing an album entirely -- which is a distinct possibility given the miniscule size of microSD cards. Many of us music listeners bought digital players precisely to avoid carrying a separate bag full of albums, and yet it's fairly telling that one of the earliest slotRadio accessories is a carrying bag precisely to accommodate the needs of slotMusic card owners.
We should be moving forward, but SanDisk's design seems to move too far backward. It feels designed by a major label that wants music fans to hold on to the physical medium for just one year longer before all their purchases are made online, or else a radio network operator still trying to come to terms with a world where music almost always comes on demand. Without the sense that you truly have mastery over the music, the slotRadio doesn't really feel like it belongs to you.
And with the price set at $99, the economy isn't necessarily there to treat it as an entry player, either. Some of this cost comes from the 1,000 songs included with the jukebox, but we might be tempted instead to buy SanDisk's eminently more capable Sansa Clip; it provides much more control, more format support, and even costs significantly less.