In an effort to lure mobile music listeners uncomfortable or unfamiliar with downloading music off the Internet, and to resuscitate sales of whole albums, SanDisk has introduced a new portable music player and revived an older method of music buying. At $19.99, its new Sansa slotMusic Player is one of the least expensive digital music players out there--and may be the simplest to operate. However, it lacks one key feature: onboard storage. Instead, users will need to buy slotMusic Cards, 1GB microSD Cards preloaded with a full albums that cost around $15. The idea is that, like cassette tapes and CDs, consumers prefer both physical media and the immediate gratification of the plug-and-play albums, instead of having to download their tunes to a computer first. However, in a world where all music is on the Internet, the slotMusic Player and cards may only make sense for a small niche of consumers.
The 2.8 x 1.4 x 1.4-inch slotMusic Player is no bigger than a pack of Trident gum and, at a little more than 2 ounces, it felt almost nonexistent when we wore it in a pocket at the gym. The player's design echoes its simple purpose. The rounded white (also available in black and with artist-branded faceplates) device has a few basic buttons: Play/Pause, Forward, Back, and a volume toggle. A 3.5mm headphone jack is on the right side and a microSD Card slot is on the left of the device. Missing from the device is a hold button; to our dismay the player turned on a number of times while in our bag.
While the interface itself is straightforward, we wish the device had a screen. The lack of a display may not be much of a restriction to those who simply buy a slotMusic Card with a preloaded album, but those looking to use the device with a 16GB card--which can hold up to 4,000 tracks--will quickly get frustrated skipping tracks to find a sought-after song.
Inserting the microSD Card is a simple matter of sliding it in until it clicks into place, much easier than getting a card into a cell phone, like theBlackBerry Curve, with which you have to pull out the battery first. Listening to your music is just as easy on the slotMusic Player: just press the Play button.
We tested the player both with an Abba Greatest Hits slotMusic Card and a regular microSD Card preloaded with our MP3s. It was recognized instantly, and "Dancing Queen" began playing; our other microSD Card, loaded with our favorite indie tunes, worked just as flawlessly. The slotMusic Player is packaged with a pair of black earbuds, which we found quite comfortable. The player and the earbuds cranked out music at high volume and were able to block out all the noise of our treadmill set to medium. Recorded at 320 Kbps, the quality of the slotMusic songs are better than those offered from Amazon.com (256 Kbps) or iTunes (AAC files at 128 Kbps and MP3s at 160 Kbps).
You can expect approximately 15 hours of playback time from the player's AAA battery, which can be swapped out from under a slide-off cover.
Managing a slotMusic Card Collection
The other half of SanDisk's Sansa slotMusic Player is the fingernail-size slotMusic Card. These 1GB cards, which will be sold at Best Buy and Wal-Mart for about $14.99 each, will be preloaded with DRM-free MP3 music from artists from labels including EMI Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music, and Warner Music. While SanDisk promises to eventually have a decent selection, it will offer only about 36 albums at launch (ranging from Jimmy Buffet to Kelly Clarkson). Those looking for music beyond those artists can transfer music from their digital music collection to a microSD Card.
Each slotMusic Card comes with a tiny USB adapter, allowing you to transfer music to and from the card using a Mac, Linux, or Windows system. Our Abba card had 180MB of remaining space, which let us put a few more MP3s on it. (Blank 1GB microSD Cards are available for as low as $4.99.) However, the player will accept only MP3s and WMA files; it will not support playback of unprotected AAC files from Apple's iTunes Store, unlike many of today's most popular music phones. On the flip side, we had no problem adding Abba's tracks to the our computer and iTunes library.
Sansa slotMusic Player Verdict
When you consider that slotMedia albums will cost approximately $14.99--compared with $9.99 on iTunes--the SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Player only makes sense for consumers who aren't buying their music online, or who want higher-quality tracks than what they may find at online music stores. Audiophiles comfortable downloading music from the Internet and transferring it to a portable device would be better off with a cheap player with scads of onboard memory, such as Samsung's 1GB Pebble S2 ($39.99). However, the Sansa slotMusic Player is simplicity itself, and despite the lack of an LCD, its $20 price tag is more than enticing.