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Radio offers 1,000 songs for $100, but it has limitations

Eric Benderoff
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

In a product category dominated by Apple Inc., the portable music players by memory card-maker SanDisk Corp. are often overlooked.

On Tuesday, SanDisk, which has delivered affordable and useful players under its Sansa brand, released a digital music player with a new twist: It does not need a computer to work. That means there will be no song downloads to worry about and no playlists to manage.

Called the Sansa slotRadio, the $100 gadget is easy to use and instantly likable.

SanDisk's approach will not appeal to everyone - it has some obvious limitations. But for casual music fans or those who are not particular about the music they hear for a workout, it might be ideal.

Here's how the slotRadio will work: Sansa will ship the player with a "mix" card pre-loaded with 1,000 songs. The songs are culled from the Billboard music charts and include country, contemporary, alternative, hip hop and rock.

Additional cards will be available for $40 - that's 4 cents a song - including genre-specific playlists: alternative, '80s, classic rock, country, etc. It's unclear as of this writing what the selection will be at launch.

The first mix card offers familiar names, including Trace Adkins, Mary J. Blige, Kenny Chesney, Coldplay, Ne-Yo, No Doubt and U2.

Unfortunately, you can't navigate to a particular artist or song when you want. In fact, the slotRadio has no navigation controls other than volume keys and forward/back buttons. You can skip ahead, but you cannot scroll through a playlist to select songs.

There isn't even a pause button - if you need to stop the music, you have to turn it off. The music will start where you stopped, however, a good feature.

This lack of control is similar to what Apple offers with its Shuffle line of iPods. That model constantly "shuffles" your music and you have little choice of what you will hear. Apple has added more control to navigate playlists in its newest Shuffle, however.

Another nice feature: The slotRadio includes an FM radio.

You can use a computer to download songs to the slotRadio. The music cards are microSDHC cards from SanDisk and they have some room on each card - about an album's worth - to download your music in the MP3 file format.

But with a fresh microSDHC card, you can download as much music as it will fit. I put hundreds of songs on a 16-gigabyte microSDHC card - a sweet product in its own right - and the slotRadio works fine. Again, I cannot control what songs will play besides being able to skip ahead and move back.

Will the slotRadio be a hit? I doubt it will shift much of the market share toward SanDisk, but it's a nice niche player for folks who want an easy solution to portable music.

The new player went on sale Tuesday at slotRadio.org and will be offered nationwide at Radio Shack stores closer to Father's Day.

___

(Eric Benderoff writes about technology for the Chicago Tribune. Contact him at ebenderoff AT tribune.com. To read past reviews of other gadgets, go to chicagotribune.com/eric.)

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