How SanDisk's slotRadio Turned a Good Idea Into a Horrible ProductS

SanDisk's slotRadio plays super cheap 1,000 song packs on microSD cards, something that should be awesome. But a series of disastrous design choices have turned it into one of the worst products I've ever seen.

In theory, being able to buy 1,000 good songs on a microSD card for $40 is great. You'd be able to pop it into various phones and MP3 players and you wouldn't have to deal with any of the hassle of downloading or ripping or any of that stuff. It would be perfect for people who aren't tech-savvy or huge music buffs.

But in practice, the entire thing has been so crippled that it's basically worthless. Yeah, you get 1,000 songs, but there's no way to actually sort through them. There's no back button. If you hear a song you like, the only way to hear it again is to hit the skip button 999 times. Seriously, who's idea was it to not include a back button? Can you think of a more disastrous interface choice on any portable music player ever?

There are more device design flaws: There's no play/pause button either, so you have to turn the thing off to stop it. BUT, if you turn it off, the 1,000-song playback starts at the beginning. At least, at the beginning of the genre (hip-hop, country, alt rock, classic rock, etc.). So you had better like the songs at the beginning of the fixed-order queue a lot. (Yep, no shuffling either.) If you use your own DRM-free music, you still have to obey these silly playback rules.

In addition, if you want to play the songs on any other device, you can't. There are plans to bring firmware updates to Sansas and some Windows Mobile devices in the future, but you can't use them in your computer and it definitely isn't a simple process to pop it out and put it in other devices. You can't pull the songs off, you can't make your own playlists, you can't add your own songs. You can't really do anything.

Obviously most of these restrictions are demands from the major record labels, all of which contribute songs to the $40, 1,000 song packs. That's why these songs are so cheap: you don't really own them. Sure, there are no subscriptions and you technically "own" the songs forever, but SanDisk showed its hand at its press conference with a screenshot of a Windows Mobile phone running slotRadio. Under each song was a "Buy Song" option. Wait, didn't you already buy the song? You want people to buy it again so they can, you know, actually use it how they want? That's a pretty shitty move, SanDisk.

Sure, some people may be conned into buying this thinking that it's a simple way to acquire a lot of music. But you've got to think that people will want to have more control over songs they listen to than this, even when they aren't too particular about their music.

Maybe eventually the major labels will loosen up a bit and sell song packs like this without the insane, device-murdering restrictions attached, but until then we're going to keep seeing garbage like the slotRadio coming out. And nothing promotes music piracy like being tricked into paying for songs that you don't really own.