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Wednesday, 15 October 2008 20:59

SanDisk wants microSD cards to displace CDs, launches 'œShuffle-like' player

Just as most CDs are DRM-free, so are SanDisk’s new “slotMusic” microSD cards, offering music in “up to 320kbps” DRM-free MP3 format. Available in stores pre-loaded with music from a range of popular artists and selling at an RRP of US $14.95 each, with some packaged with a Shuffle-like SanDisk player (on sale for US $20 alone) for a total of $34.95, is this a new front in the digital music revolution, or a waste of time in the face of the download reality?

Memory cards are now so cheap to produce that they can rival the retail price of CDs in stores, although with microSD cards around the size of a pinky fingernail, they’re definitely easier to lose and might not be friendly to anyone without the best eyesight.

That said, almost every phone on the market now supports microSD cards, as do many of the world’s mp3 players, thus making the microSD format a viable one for music distribution if only music labels would sell cards pre-loaded with albums.

Well, it happened last month, with major Flash memory manufacturer SanDisk leading the push to make buying such pre-loaded memory cards at retail a reality – at least, in the US, before the rest of the world gets them sometime in 2009.

On sale in CD sized cases, the package includes a microSD card, a USB reader, and in packages with a SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Player included, the player is branded with the images and or branding of the artist in question.

You can visit the slotMusic website here where you can see that Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI are all on board, suggesting that virtually all the big hits will possibly make it onto slotMusic cards, if this initial test proves successful.

What’s new is the slotMusic player itself, on sale without any artist branding (i.e. SanDisk only branding) for US $20, or with artist branding pre-packaged with a $14.95 card for a total of US $34.95, although street prices for the cards and players will likely be cheaper, with BestBuy and Walmart the initial outlets for both.

The player itself has no screen, just buttons to play and stop, fast forward and rewind, and volume controls. There’s no USB connector either – just pop in a slotMusic card, press play, and it starts playing. Although the slotMusic player comes with standard headphones and a 3.5mm headphone socket, you can naturally use whatever headphones you want.

The unit is powered by a AAA battery, which is supposed to give 15 hours of playback time.

But don’t think you need to buy one of these players if your mp3 player already has a microSD slot, or you have one on your phone – you can use these cards there too, or presumably, copy them off the card onto other cards you already own, like the one that’s already in your phone.

Daniel Schreiber, senior vice president and general manager for SanDisk said: “With no need for computers or cords, the Sansa slotMusic Player gives consumers more time to play, and less time to worry about managing or downloading their music.

“SanDisk is all about building products that are easy for consumers to enjoy. Just insert your favorite artist’s slotMusic card into the Sansa slotMusic player and press play.”

So, what are the technical details of this otherwise very basic player and which artists are now available to purchase in this diminutive format?

Also... is it a good idea - or the start of musicSlot cards getting lost under the couch cushions, lost under car seats or hurtling down the aisle of a bus or plane? Please read on to page 2. 

The player plays any MP3 files and any DRM-free WMA (Windows Media) files, and as the musicSlot cards are 1GB in size, there’s plenty of extra space to add more music.

In addition to songs, slotMusic cards may hold liner notes, album art, videos and other creative content that an artist may choose as an added bonus.

As an example, “Grammy-winning recording artist Robin Thicke, is utilizing the additional space on his card to add exclusive videos, behind the scenes footage and photos, personally chosen by Thicke to share with his fans”, according to SanDisk.  

The cards also come in those plastic SD card cases, which look like tiny CD covers except about an inch square in size, complete with artist branding – and yes, a material SD “wallet” card case holder is available to store your musicSlot cards in.

SanDisk also make mention of the fact they sell 16GB microSD cards which suggests its player is perfectly capable of accepting these cards, with 16GB able to hold approximately 4000 MP3s.

The player weighs a little over two ounces and dimensions of 2.75” W x 1.4375” H x 1.4375” D.

Aside from the card wallet, there’s also an armband for sale, as well as other “shells” for the player to replace SanDisk’s standard shell, or those of artists, so you can “customise a player to your own tastes”.

Available now in the US, Europe and other regions of the world will get them in 2009.

So, what artists are now available on the slotMusic bandwagon?

SanDisk says that “dozens of popular artists from EMI Music, SONY BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group are making their debut on slotMusic cards in time for the holidays”, including:

    * ABBA
    * Chris Brown
    * Coldplay
    * Connie Talbot
    * Daughtry
    * Don’t Quit Fitness Bundle
    * Elvis Presley
    * Five Finger Death Punch
    * Jimi Hendrix
    * Jimmy Buffet
    * Katy Perry
    * Keane
    * Kelly Clarkson
    * Kiss
    * Leona Lewis
    * Lynyrd Skynyrd
    * Metro Station
    * MIA
    * Nelly
    * New Kids On the Block
    * Ne-Yo
    * Nickelback
    * Pussycat Dolls
    * Rihanna
    * Rise Against
    * Robin Thicke
    * Saving Abel
    * Shwayze
    * Solange
    * Sugarland
    * Tim McGraw
    * Toby Keith
    * Usher
    * Weezer
    * Young Jeezy

Which other artists are coming, and is it a good idea or not? Click on over to page 3...

SanDisk promises that “consumers can expect additional releases from other artists before the end of the year.”

So, is it a good idea? Well, CDs were a good idea, and not everyone is comfortable in downloading music from iTunes or other online music stores.

Being able to but digital music and instantly play it the cheap as chips SanDisk musicSlot player, or the millions of phones or other mp3 players out there is a good idea.

But good ideas aren’t always popular with consumers, so we’ll just have to see what their reaction is.

Consumers will also need to be aware that the cards are tiny and easy to lose or misplace, if you’re not careful.

All in all, it’s a very interesting development in the world of digital music, and counter intuitive when you consider that downloads are supposed to be the way of the future.

Still, all the major music labels are on board, and SanDisk says that everyone is making money out of the deal, so if it leads to more legal sales of music, then everyone’s a winner.

That includes consumers, especially those for whom an iPod or fiddling with computers is just too much hassle.

Can I see myself buying one of these instead of a CD?

Well, given that the tracks are of higher quality than most digital music downloads, why not?

I guess I’ll wait until they go on sale down under, and before that, whether US consumers snap them up, or spit them out.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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