SanDisk Sansa SlotRadio Review

slotradio main SanDisk Sansa SlotRadio Review

I have had a slotRadio well before it was released to the public and over these last 6 months tried to wrap my head around where this product fits into the way people consume music. I’ve used it myself at the gym and in the car, let friends and relatives borrow it, discussed with other tech bloggers, and prodded lots of sales floor reps for customer reactions.

With all this anecdotal evidence I’m going to bet against it. However, it may be a risky bet on my part since it may be applicable to a market or demographic I don’t at all understand. For the last three or four years I have been reading and writing about digital media players as a full time job. This may have created a myopic point of view now allowing me to see that fringe demographic of music consumers that is still a substantial enough of a market to sustain a profitable product line.

Proving my point on why I might not get it are the sources of review quotes represented on Good Housekeeping says: “I have been using the slotRadio player for a few months now and have become addicted to my device.” MomAdvice seems to love the player and says “It’s quite mind blowing”. Furthermore the promotional video feels more like a late night “call now” infomercial featuring a “mom” in her late 30’s / early 40’s dancing in a hiked up skirt with her slotRadio player clipped to her faux red alligator belt. I can’t relate.

Before I get into why it will fail or why it might have a chance- ill give an overview of what the slotRadio format is all about.

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How it works

This new media form factor is based around microSD cards containing a thousands of songs that are locked down to that card and can only be played by slotRadio enabled hardware. This card doesn’t function in a way that a traditional microSD card with music on it might function in a Sansa Fuze for example. This being that you cannot build playlists, shuffle, or select your song. It functions very much like Slacker or Pandora in that you listen to what they give you and skip the song forward, but not backward, if you like. SlotRadio is more of a competitor to “new radios” than it is to a typical MP3 player.

The hardware

As of now there is a simple piece of hardware that will playback slotRadio cards dubbed appropriately the Sansa SlotRadio. It’s a very basic player that is comprised of an off/play switch, pause/play button, skip forward (no back), and station up/down buttons. There is only one basic screen that shows the channel you are listening to and the current song that is playing. It doesn’t get any more basic than this- anyone with hands can use the this player. Actually, it’s probably not even that discriminate- I’m sure you could get it to play without your hands by smacking it with your forehead, chewing on it, or simply knocking it off the table. Ok, you get the point.

The hardware is very robust and would easily take some spills off the kitchen table. Made of what I would guess to be a casted steel with a plastic face. Sound quality may not matter much to the targeted demographic, but it does sound very good- though I will mention again that this player has no features such as an EQ.

Other slots you can stick it in

Recently SanDisk updated the firmware on the Sansa Fuze to allow for the playback of slotRadio cards. Keep in mind that the Fuze offers no additional features- it functions exactly the same as the slotRadio player once you select the “slotRadio” menu. This menu item only shows when you have a slotRadio card inserted. My guess would be that in the future other devices such as mobile phone might support the slotRadio card.

The Cards

If you purchase a Sansa slotRadio player it comes with a card with a mix of genres. Separate cards can be purchased for $40 each and contain a single genre or theme such as “R&B / Hip Hop”, “Country”, “Rock”, “Oldies”, “Work Out”, or “80’s & 90’s”. These cards contain 1000 songs and are broken down by sub-genre channels.

Why the slotRadio format’s time is limited

Just recently my local best buy pulled all of the slot media and hardware from their shelves. I spoke to a few SanDisk reps that hang out in the MP3 player section at Best Buy about the slotRadio format and asked if it was selling. At two different locations the answer was, no, it wasn’t selling. Other than the internet, the only other place I see it for sale is RadioShack. So is it a shift in retailers or the beginning of a decline? Correction: SlotRadio was never sold in Best Buy; it was SlotMusic I was confused with. It has only ever been sold brick and mortar at Radio Shack.

Here are a few thoughts on why it’s time is limited.

Real time competitors

Above I had talked about how the slotRadio format functions more like Pandora or Slacker or even Last.FM Radio. The biggest advantage of these services is that they are free/dirt cheap and are always fresh. The issue though is that you need an internet connection either constantly or temporarily. But as the smartphone convergence device revolution precedes fewer people that is not interested in a dedicated music player will be left for the slotRadio niche. Those left in that niche also have the option of turning on traditional FM radio as well as HD radio.

These competitors I found that one song flows much better to the next. On the card’s R&B / Hip Hop station I found the songs to vary greatly from one to the next. For instance it went from Kanye West to really old TLC to Earth Wind & Fire to Bow Wow to Slick Rick to early Janet Jackson. SlotRadio card would need to be more intelligent in picking the playlist.

Price point

Honestly though, I might be able to see myself purchasing a card. For instance if I was on a road trip and I happened to only bring one player (yeah right) and it was a Fuze and the gas station had some of the latest slotRadio cards at the count line- maybe I would pic
k one of if I felt my playlist I currently had was stale. But no way I would pay $40 for a card- $40 is not a price point for an impulse purchase. $20 is about that limit. Additionally, what are the chances that rest station gas station had slotRadio cards in stock?

Format Education

Talking to various friends and relatives it was difficult to explain to them the concept of the slotRaido. It was difficult for MP3 veterans to understand because of the limitation such as the inability to select exactly which song you wanted to play. People relatively unfamiliar with MP3 players using mainly the radio and a CD player were confused by the fact that it was a “radio” that accepted physical media. By the time they accepted that it was some sort of radio- they were put off by the $100 price tag when they already have several radios in their homes and autos.

Granted consumers will get it eventually, but it will take massive advertising campaigns to do so. Advertising is expensive and I would question the ROI with such a small potential market.

Why the slotRadio has a chance

Larger cards

1,000 songs is a lot of music, roughly 75 hours of music (4.5 min per song = 4,500 min or 75 hours of music)- Considering you might use this at that’s about two weeks before you start to hear duplications- that is if you enjoy every channel and don’t skip any. Due to a wide swing of music within channels I found myself skipping a lot of tracks.

But what would happen if these cards held 10 to 100 times what they do now. Cost of storage is coming down rapidly and new formats such as SDxc pave the way for capacities up to 2TB. With that amount of music it might be much more interesting.

Sans Clip 2

The first generation clip is insanely popular because it’s good cheap tech. Rumors and the inevitability of a second generation clip with a microSD slot would put the technology in many more hands. After all SanDisk does sit at number two (though distant) behind the iPod. At the gym I see almost as many Sansa’s as I do iPods. If consumers see that they can get some fresh music easily and quickly by simply popping a card in their existing player they might just bite. I see a lot of Clips out there but I also still see a lot of e200’s out there- so updating old hardware may be key too. If any single thing would stir interest, leveraging SanDisk’s massive Sansa user base would be it.

As it stands now, there is absolutely no reason to purchase a slotRadio Player over a 2GB Sansa Fuze other than the size. If a Clip 2 came to market with a microSD slot that might be a sweet spot.


My prediction is that the slotRadio format will start to fade and won’t be found on store shelves by 2011. But like I had previously mentioned I’m not 100% confident that’s the case since this card format my appeal to a demographic I don’t understand. I may be missing something since I have lived digital media for so long. If it does see success it will be in the leverage of existing and future looking hardware.

Not sure if the demographic who have purchased a slotRadio or card is here reading this, but have you purchased one for yourself or a digital media noob? I would love to hear about it.


hawkshot on June 15, 2009 3:46 PM

There are some slotradio players and cards at 2 wal-marts near me.That doesn’t change the fact that I think that the slotradio is a bad idea.

MarvintheMartian on June 15, 2009 5:49 PM

I’m inclined to think that a 16GB Fuze, or a Clip with a slot, would sell much better. I don’t know if a slot would be possible on the Clip without making it bigger though.Your point about the e200′s is spot on too….there’s a lot of e-series loyalists out there.Also, they should finally come right out and say the View is dead…we all know it, but there are still people buying them and getting angry afterwards when they realize it sucks and is no longer given updates. Caveat emptor, indeed.

cozyman on June 15, 2009 7:01 PM

I don’t get it, but then I’m in my late forties so what do I know? I still like my Sansa m250s for their use of AAA batteries and non proprietary cables, but I do have to admit that I like my Fuze better because of its larger capacity, scroll wheel and, most importantly, its bigger, brighter screen.SlotRadio is for dummies; it’ll be huge.

ultrauber on June 15, 2009 9:53 PM

I don’t think SanDisk is getting the picture – these new formats, slotMusic and slotRadio aren’t going to catch on like the CD. CD caught on because the design was opened up to the world – be cause anyone could make a CD player without consent. And sell it for 10 bucks, not 100.Also:”I see a lot of Clips out there but I also still see a lot of e200’s out there- so updating old hardware may be key too.”Are you suggesting that we e200-lovers need a “hardware update”? I really don’t care if my e250 supports slotRadio – it’s a hopeless idea. e200 is supported in Rockbox – Fuze is not. This pretty much make the e200 better by default.

jjrosaria on June 16, 2009 12:42 AM

nice review, but how’s SQ can’t seen to find that part

MarvintheMartian on June 16, 2009 12:53 AM

@ultrauber:The Rockbox port for the Fuze isn’t very far away.@jjrosaria:copied from hardware section:”Sound quality may not matter much to the targeted demographic, but it does sound very good- though I will mention again that this player has no features such as an EQ.”

jkj1962 on June 16, 2009 9:18 AM

The target demographic for slotRadio is there, but it remains to be seen if that group is large enough to sustain it.While I sort of agree about slotRadio being (at this time) a closed format, slotMusic cards can be played on cell phones, and I can’t think of how much more “opened up to the world” you can get than that. IMHO, slotMusic has a better chance at succeeding, and I get the impression that cell phone users are a large part of their intended users, with the player just being an “extra”.

zen on June 16, 2009 11:09 AM

i like the idea of slotMusic, but not so much the my opinion, in order to get it to work, sandisk needs to open up the format to more people and everything like the cd did. and i can see myself in the future w/o cds, but instead a couple sd cards to store all the data, i think that is the future (that or downloads), but it needs to be available for more people/devices in order for this idea to take effect.

kamidi on June 17, 2009 4:54 AM

This product should be tested but I think the price is quite expensive for the size slotradio.

copeys on June 17, 2009 8:32 AM

I agree, if these cards were around $20, with the player around $50, more people would buy them. I am not sure what the advertising is like in the US, but maybe some counter displays? Make it sort of an impulse buy as enzo said, and people after seeing it around might get a little more interested.

Nicole on June 17, 2009 2:58 PM

I don’t get it either. Not the concept or the price point or the advertising described which insinuates that Mom’s are too clueless to handle the same player their kid’s use. (But I may be over-sensitive here with my birthday coming up!)But if the profit margin is good, 2 years of sales could be worthwhile to Sansa, who is basically recycling old technology in a new format. And, potentially, gain loyal customers who get a taste of the MP3 bug.

timmyjoe42 on June 17, 2009 4:56 PM

Slotradio is going to be as popular as the Sansa Shaker. Who comes up with these ideas?iPods have 4 distinct models / and sizes for specific price ranges and capabilities.Sansa should concentrate on the View / Fuze / Clip models and upgrading them. They also should introduce a touch screen device to keep up with the times. If the Clip had a microSD slot they could widen that device’s appeal.

ultrauber on June 18, 2009 1:50 AM

@MarvintheMartianTrue, but that still only levels it with the e200 – no reason to upgrade.

shelded on June 18, 2009 5:52 PM

I bought a SR *card* for my Fuze and think it is great. Uh, as great as top hits radio ever was. The three Fuze users in my family can hand this card about.I think the SR *device* is idiocy at the current price, but there is the SlotMusic device for $20 which, if it could play SR, would be great.I can see them selling a lot of SR cards easily at $20. To Fuze owners who have updated the firmware and know about the feature (this is a really small niche). :) I think the barrier to this is that $40 is too high for too many of you to experiment with. It needs to be lower to entice you, although I think it is an excellent price already. Maybe the SR card is not being sold with 500 songs at $20 because the relative cost of the SDHC card is more than the SM cards which are ~12 songs for $15. Hey, Sansa marketing, here’s my suggestion: if you guys want $40 from people, toss in a blank 8GB microSDHC card with each SR card purchase. That would value the SR at about $23 and the buyer would not be risking the entire investment on the unknown. And educate those Radio Shack people about the Fuze firmware upgrade.My usage notes on the SR card are here

Aevum on June 19, 2009 12:37 PM

theres a couple of small issues i wanted to ask which didnt seem to be in the review,1) can i just fill a MicroSD with my own mp3 files, will it read them or it has to be specific slotmusic signed cards ?2) battery life is similar to the clip, no ?

Drive-In-Freak on June 20, 2009 11:55 AM

Oh look…it’s the modern version of a K-tel 8-track! No rewind and 1000 hits for just $39.95!CLICKAS SEEN ON TV!The idea of a physical format for recoded music is about as silly and outdated as my joke, but…perhaps older folks and/or the technically inept may enjoy such a thing.As far as the restrictions go…if you can hear it you can record it. Sure it would have to be done in real time, but there is no such thing as music or any other audio that can’t be copied.

Peter Hoff on June 28, 2009 2:41 AM

Is it possible to hear the songs more than once, for example when you have played your way all through the 1000 songs, or is it a one-time use and then throw it away?You might find it strange that I’m asking such a question, but in Europe and specially Denmark where I live, it’s not abnormal with such a time limit due to license rules and the greedy music industry.

heartnsoul on August 11, 2009 11:36 PM

Honestly, I was just about to purchase a slotradio for walking at the park and going to the gym.I’m a very busy single mom in my 40′s. I’d love to get an mp3 player but have no time to seek out and download songs…plus to pay for them at what? $1.00+ a song? I’d need another $700+ to put a good variety on and with 3 busy kids, just can’t do that. So it may appeal to people like me. Or I may be the only one who buys it . lol

Smallz on September 27, 2009 4:59 PM

The new clip + can play slotradio. Its only $80 total for a clip + and a slotradio card, so I can’t see anyone buying the slotradio player unless the price went down dramatically. However, I can see fuze and clip owners buying the card. I would consider getting one myself if I didn’t already have an extensive music collection.

Tammy1986d on March 22, 2010 7:34 PM

I think this is great. It reminds me of the old walkman am/fm radio with a casette player. All I wanted was something like the old school walkman but compact and easy to use and this really is it for people like me that are old school.

Tammy1986d on March 22, 2010 7:35 PM

I think this is great. It reminds me of the old walkman am/fm radio with a casette player. All I wanted was something like the old school walkman but compact and easy to use and this really is it for people like me that are old school.

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