Sansa slotRadio Player Fights iPod With FM Capability And (Almost) Free Music

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Sansa slotRadio image courtesy of SanDisk. Sansa slotRadio image courtesy of SanDisk.

Sansa slotRadio image courtesy of SanDisk.

Sansa tries to find an opening in the mp3 player market between the Shuffle and the Nano with a clip-on player that includes a small screen and 1,000 ‘free’ songs. But can the slotRadio Player hold a candle toApple? The simple answer is: maybe.

The folks at SanDisk sent me over one of their new Sansa slotRadio players with the suggestion that this might make a nice Mother’s Day gift. Throwing a non-Apple digital music player into this den of iPod worship takes some guts (Apple has infiltrated the household to the extent of 9 of Steve Jobs’ little jukeboxes kicking around here the last time I counted), but I’m always curious to see how the other guys are making out.

The slotRadio player is a curious device. Its form factor is clearly influenced by the second generation iPod Shuffle, particularly the fact that it’s aluminum and built around a clip, making it a wearable accessory. The packaging also gives a nod to Apple, with the product and accessories presented in a streamlined, colorful box with everything neatly nestled inside; although for some reason they wrap this whole pleasing bit up in one of those damnable plastic clamshells that ruins the whole effect. At an MSRP of $99.99, the slotRadio is priced higher than a 2G (or 3G) Shuffle and it’s also roughly double the size. However, it includes a rudimentary (small, black and white) display screen, allowing for basic graphics as well as useful information such as song titles and radio frequency to be shown. The FM capability is a nice feature, but that’s not the real draw on the slotRadio; what makes the price so enticing is the inclusion of a 1,000 song card with music from various Billboard genres organized into preselected playlists. Additional 1,000 song cards are sold at $39.99 each. If so inclined, you can play your own MP3 or WMA files on a MicroSD Card.

Any time you get music at $0.04 per song, you have to think that it’s likely to be a lot of crap: cover versions, B-Sides (and not the good ones that collectors covet) and a whole lot of Creed. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the “Alternative” playlist on the free card included recent offerings from the likes of The Bravery, The Fratellis and Beck- and the Rock playlist included The Who, Roxy Music, The Police and U2. These weren’t disposable filler songs either. Other genres/playlists on the included card are: Country, R&B/Hip Hop, Contemporary, Chillout and Workout. I had no use for most of the genres, but seldom found myself fumbling to skip past anything once I settled into Rock or Alternative. The one thing I really liked about this player was the radio, believe it or not; sometimes you just want to hear something different and not everyone wants to shell out extra for an iPod radio add-on. Battery life was reasonable as well, averaging around 10 hours for me (SanDisk claims 13 hours of slotRadio playback, but I was switching back and forth between playback and radio and fiddling with buttons that fired the display up and undoubtedly ate into batery life).

Ultimately, SanDisk may have accomplished what they set out to do with the slotRadio. For a casual music listener, it hits many of the key points without getting too fussy: lots of decent music already presorted into playlists, a reasonably small size with a convenient clip, a basic display that shows the essentials, serviceable ear buds, the ability to add more music via pre-loaded cards or via your computer and a MicroSD card (for the more adventurous) and the ability to listen to the radio. For a Mother’s Day gift, for example, it would probably do nicely -after all, you have a completely standalone music player with a radio, and no need to buy or download anything else.

Is the slotRadio going to take a bite out of Apple’s iPod sales? I have my doubts. It’s too big and chunky to appeal to fashionable Shuffle users (both 2G and 3G) and underwhelming compared to the capabilities of an ipod Nano -the two models it’s priced between. The preloaded songs aren’t transferable and a hookup to your stereo will confirm that we aren’t talking 256 kbps quality tracks; you can’t back them up either, so if the card is damaged, your library is gone. But this device may just pick up casual users who’ve been sitting on the fence and either don’t know how to rip their CDs (or vinyl) or don’t want to spend a fortune paying for downloads, not to mention the people who are just plain tired of Apple’s dominance. And as good as the iPod line-up is, we all know that competition is only going to make for better products all round.

The slotRadio beside a 2G iPod Shuffle.The slotRadio beside a 2G iPod Shuffle.

The slotRadio beside a 2G iPod Shuffle.

Wired Reasonable Price (especially considering the included music card). Display shows just enough info. FM tuner
Tired Battery can’t be replaced. No replay button, only skip ahead capability. Bulky. No matter how musically forgiving, you’re going to end up with unwanted songs.

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