SanDisk’s slotMusic Initiative attempts to resuscitate physical media by substituting microSD cards preloaded with music for conventional CDs. While the distribution network might be shaky, the $20 slotMusic MP3 player designed to work with it actually functions as an admirably simple microSD MP3 player, whether you buy your music from SanDisk or not. On the bang-for-the-buck scale, it’s hard to contest a solid player cheaper than dinner or a night on the town, but more advanced users eying the player on price alone might be better off looking elsewhere.
The slotMusic Initiative
Of all the new distribution methods that music companies have cooked up to replace the compact disc, SanDisk’s SlotMusic concept has to be one of the simplest – and perhaps, depending on your level of tech saviness, the silliest. There’s no Internet connection involved, subscription, or even DRM. SanDisk has simply taken the physical entity represented by a CD and replaced it with microSD cards.
The company sells slotMusic cards pre-loaded with music from different artists for $15 a pop. You buy the $20 player, pop the card, in and off you go. It’s the 21st century equivalent of a Walkman, with media that’s about as big as your pinky nail.
So far, pickins are slim. Only a handful of retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, even carry the cards, and of those that do still only have a very limited selection of music to offer. But for the technically inclined, each card can be wiped or added onto, meaning the player itself has little relation to the slotMusic format unless users decide to adopt it as their method of distribution.
Build Quality & Aesthetics
For a $20 MP3 player, the Sansa slotMusic feels far from cheap. SanDisk has actually taken the opposite approach from manufacturers that build lightweight-but-chintzy electronics from plastic, and built a player composed mostly of metal, that’s solid, but a little on the heavy side as a side effect. Depending on your taste in MP3 players, though, the weight actually lends it a pleasant, sturdy feel.
A solid strip of metal runs around three edges of the player, creating a C-shaped frame, which a plastic jacket snaps on to create the fourth edge. The shell also covers the flat faces of the player with whatever graphics happen to be stickered on to it, lending the player a degree of customizability through shells. SanDisk already produces custom versions of the player with band logos and other designs layered onto the plastic, for the ultimate fans of ABBA and Robin Thicke.
We liked the concept, but the shells also ruined the illusion of quality from the metal, to some degree. On ours, the soft stickers showed dents from even the tiniest marks, to the point where you could almost write your name on it with a fingernail. We suspect they may need replacement after making friends with a couple of keys and change at the bottom of pockets and purses.
Besides earbud headphones, a quick start guide and an alkaline AAA battery (which the company suggests is good for 15 hours), SanDisk includes a USB 2.0 microSD card reader with every slotMusic album, which is handy for checking out its contents on a computer or adding your own. Each card only comes loaded with one album of MP3s in 320kbps quality, leaving about 800MB free for extra music.
Image Courtesy of Sandisk
After using MP3 players day-in-and-day-out that hold weeks worth of music and function more like miniature computers, the Sansa’s ultra-simple approach to music was actually a refreshing throwback to the days of single-disc CD players. It’s not comprehensive, or even remotely sophisticated, but it works, and we can see the potential appeal for consumers aggravated with the expense and time consumption of more complex players.
The slotMusic offers the simplest arrangement of buttons you’ll ever find on a modern MP3 player: forward, backward, play/pause, and a volume rocker. There isn’t even a power button, since pausing the player effectively shuts it off. Only a tiny blue LED even indicates there’s anything going on inside, and you won’t even find a hold button to prevent the play button from accidentally turning it on (although having to hold it down to fire the player up effectively prevented any problems for us.)
Adding music can only be done through the microSD slot, which accepts cards up to 16GB, though slotMusic cards are currently only produced in the 1GB flavor. A lack of display, or even shuffle capability, would probably prevent most (sane) users from attempting to stuff that many songs into it though, since navigation would be a nightmare.
The slotMusic’s included headphones, while unremarkable, produced perfectly acceptable music quality for SanDisk’s audience of non-audiophiles. More importantly, their fluffy foam covers made them comfortable enough for long-term wear, which is our chief complaint with cheap earbuds, and cord length was ideal for a pocketable player.
SanDisk’s slotMusic Initiative may be a questionable approach to buying music using the dying physical distribution model, but we can definitely see its appeal for no-nonsense music fans who have been waiting for a convenient successor to the CD. While we would recommend it to these types of consumers on the merits of simplicity, we would also caution that we don’t always see preloaded slotMusic cards being around, or readily accessible, so consumers should also be prepared to load their own tunes manually if need be.
On the whole, SanDisk’s Sansa slotMusic makes a fine budget MP3 player for those who don’t want to put much effort into their music. More advanced users desiring more sophistication from a player, but without the price tag, would do better to look for sales on some of SanDisk’s more advanced players, which can sometimes be had nearly as cheap, but with far more features.
• Ultra cheap
• Solid feeling
• Expandable up to 16GB
• Built for a questionable music distribution channel
• Lack of any but the most basic controls
• Uses alkaline batteries