Don’t want your music-loving 8- to 11-year-old running around with an iPod? SanDisk targets “tweens” with its new Sansa Shake — a kid-friendly player that stores music on Secure Digital memory cards and runs on one triple-A battery. Best of all, it’s pretty darn cheap, at just $39.99, including a 512MB SD card. Older kids may not be impressed by the Shaker’s size and features, but I had a tough time getting it back from two 8-year-olds I lent it to.
The Shaker comes in pink or blue and has two twistable white rings for adjusting volume and skipping tracks. At one end, there’s an integrated speaker, and the other end pops off to reveal a mini-USB port, SD card slot, and battery compartment. There are two headphone jacks — a handy and fun plus — and a power/play/pause button on the sides. The Shaker lacks a screen, but that could be a plus for kids, since it’s one less thing to break.
At about 1.6 inches in diameter and 2.8 inches long, the Shaker is considerably bulkier than Apple’s second-gen iPod Shuffle and the Creative Zen Stone, but that may make it harder to lose. The Shuffle and Stone come in more colors, though the Shaker does come with a bunch of cute stickers. Another consideration is that the Shuffle is twice the price of the Shaker and lacks a speaker, though it has twice the memory capacity.
Accessories include a pair of earbuds that may be on the big side for young ‘uns, a triple-A battery, and a USB cable, plus a 512MB SD card that holds around 125 songs (128Kbps MP3s). The Shaker also comes preloaded with a double-handful of fun kids songs like “The Wheels On the Bus”.
Loading music on the Shaker is simple for Windows users: Just plug it into your PC’s USB port and transfer music files right in Windows — no music management software required. Just be prepared to wait for a bit if you’re transferring a lot of files, since the Shaker operates at USB 1.1 speeds.
The Shaker doesn’t support WMA files or subscription music, just MP3s and WAV files. It also lacks Mac support, though you can get an inexpensive card reader for your Mac and load music directly onto the SD card.
The controls are easier to use for kids’ smaller hands than for my own adult-size mitts, and nothing’s too terribly complex to figure out. Most kids will be able to whiz their way around it before their parents can say “Worldwide Developer Conference.”
To power the player on and off, hold the play/pause button for a few seconds until you hear a kooky sound effect. You skip tracks using one of the white rings, or you can hold the play/pause while giving the player a good shake to make it jump to a random song (accompanied by another sound effect).
Other sound effects play when you shake the player while it’s paused, when the battery is low or the SD card is removed during playback, and when there’s no music on the SD card. Unfortunately, there’s no battery indicator light, though you get roughly 15 hours of playback time per, depending on battery brand and type — not bad for this type of player. I like that you can use store-bought alkalines or rechargeables, so kids aren’t tethered to a computer when the player needs to be juiced up.
The sound quality on my review unit was problematic, which seems to be the norm with early runs from SanDisk. There’s distortion to the point where you can hear ghostly notes that aren’t in the original music. For example, when you hear a horn, it sounds like there are one or two other grungy-sounding horns in a parallel dimension playing along faintly. A SanDisk rep indicated that the company deliberately cut corners on the sound quality because of the target age, but this seems excessive to me.
Overall, the Shaker is cheap enough ($39.99) to be a fun stocking stuffer or gift, and that’s sure to be its main attraction. Is the Shaker exciting for adults, with its quirky features and sound effects? No. But judging from the way my two 8-year-old neighbors fought over it, this has potential to do OK with the kiddies.