From the jump-off let’s be clear that this is a TECHNOLOGY review as opposed to an album review. Jesal Padania previously covered this album in December of 2008. I will be commenting on the album as relates to the quality and enjoyability of this format, but the scores at the end of this review relate only to the convenience and the quality of the slotMusic product.
So what IS “slotMusic” exactly? Based on the packaging you might at first think it was a CD single in one of those eco-friendly recycled packaging sleeves. Even though the size is approximately the same as a regular retail CD the weight is nothing like it when you pick it up – it’s as light as a feather. That’s exactly as it should be given this is a micro-sized product which appears to be targetted first and foremost at cell-phone users. Since most cell phone providers charge $1.99 or more per song for the “convenience” of buying music through their network (double the going rate at iTunes) a lot of customers will no doubt be thrilled to know they can buy an entire album for under $15. Those consumers will undoubtedly be familiar with microSD technology, where the tiny little chip you can see through the cover IS the whole album, as opposed to a 2 GB memory expansion so you can download more games and ringtones (more on that in a second). SanDisk also anticipated a secondary market of computer users who would appreciate the miniaturized size and elimination of storing a CD plus gem case, so they have conveniently provided a USB adapter for the microSD card so you can play it on your PC.
I opted to try the cell phone application of this technology first. Being familiar with my Verizon enV only took me a few seconds to find the microSD slot and pop the memory card I had in out, although you may need to consult your manual and the packaging doesn’t guarantee 100% compatibility with all phones anyway (encouraging you to go to slotMusic.org to make sure it will work). In fact getting my old memory card out was easier than getting the plastic tray with the slotMusic card inside open – I eventually gave up prying it apart with my fingers and resorted to brute force with a pair of scissors. I can’t stress enough how tiny and easy to lose these microSD cards are, so you may want to be smart and do this exchange on a flat surface with a white sheet of typing paper underneath – drop one of these in your couch or recliner and you’re as good as screwed. The downside of swapping in slotMusic for my memory expansion is that I immediately lost all background pictures, ringtones, photographs and songs I had downloaded. If you’re not a heavy cell phone user and all your files go to internal memory this probably isn’t a problem – but if you’re NOT a heavy cell phone user then this product wasn’t targetted to you to begin with! Unfortunate but unavoidable unless you’ve got some sort of super souped up cell that has two microSD slots (I’m sure some brand of iPhone must have them).
As for the music I’m pleased to say it works perfectly on my cell. I went to “my music” and before I could even key in whether I wanted to play or import the songs my phone lit up with “adding songs to your library.” Awesome. I went under “albums” and “Freedom” was already listed. I clicked “play” and “Beautiful” immediately started echoing out of my cell phone’s external speaker. Even without putting in a pair of headphones (which sadly are Verizon specific – you can’t use a standard set) sounds better than most portable radios or Walkmans I’ve ever owned. Amazing how far technology has come in the last twenty-five years. The fact I can make out every word of Kardinal’s rap in “Beautiful,” especially given he has a thick Canadian patois accent, already makes the audio quality of slotMusic a thumbs up. My only complaint is that Verizon adds an extraneous ? mark to the beginning of song names for most of the album, but that is a minor glitch that doesn’t effect playback or enjoyability one bit.
Since I want my ringtones and photos back anyway, I decided to swap my original memory back in and try this microSD card with the enclosed USB adapter. For the record I’m doing this with a MacBook so your mileage may vary. The adapter itself is a no-brainer since the microSD card fits together with it like a jigsaw puzzle piece. In fact for many purchasers this adapter alone could be a purchase point, since you could offload the contents of your cell phone’s regular microSD card to your PC using this same adapter. I popped the adapter in my USB port and a drive labelled “slotMusic” immediately popped up on my desktop. Clicking it open reveals three folders – My Music, slotMusic Extras and slotMusic Videos. The first is exactly what you’d expect – all 14 songs from the “Freedom” album. Clicking on any of these songs immediately opens the track in iTunes, and without any of the extraneous ? marks that popped up on my cell phone. IMHO the sound quality is exactly comparable to a high-gloss CD rip and you’d have to be an audiophile to tell the difference between slotMusic and a CD. I know in advance there are reviewers who will so I can only tell you I’m writing for Joe Consumer, not Joe Bose Acoustic Engineer.
What intrigued me the most were the second and third folders, so I quickly stopped playback and went to the “Extras.” I was pleasantly surprised to find all of the album artwork in .jpg format and a promotional photo of him holding up the slotMusic card. Having gone to that much trouble I was hoping they’d include a scan of the liner notes as well but was disappointed to not find them anywhere. Hell I’d have settled for a PDF or even a plain text document, but no such luck. The “Videos” folder may have been the biggest surprise, as it included Akon’s videos for “Freedom” and “Right Now” in THREE different formats – 3GP (cell phones), MP4 (QuickTime) and AVI (Windows Media). As it turns out “Freedom” is not a music video though – it’s more of a “behind the scenes documentary” feature but it’s still appreciated. After I got done playing with all of these features and checked the packaging for “Freedom (slotMusic)” again I realized a regular CD-sized liner WAS inserted into the shrinkwrap, placed on the back flap instead of the front like most CD consumers would be used to. It’s hard to complain about liners not being included but I still feel a digital scan would have been convenient.
The bottom line on “slotMusic” is that I found the technology very easy to use as someone already experienced with cell phones and memory cards, and that the technology itself performed far above my expectations in terms of audio quality and available features. The free USB adapter is for me a big selling point for buying future slotMusic releases, since it would be nice to have one paired with each album even when not being played via a computer or a cell phone. Why? Well it’s going to be slightly harder to lose the USB adapter than it is the tiny microSD card, so I’ll plan to keep the album in the slot whenever I’m not using it. This is the kind of change the music industry has needed to make for a while now in terms of making albums more convenient and accessible to the user, so I hope it catches on in ’09.