Sansa Rhapsody’s Tasteful Imposition

sansarhapsody.jpgWalter Mossberg looks at Sansa’s Rhapsody-integrated player today. I generally like his columns, but he has a tendency to draw a bead on one or two features and focus on them. With the Sansa Rhapsody, it’s the annoying inclusion of 500 or more “free tracks” on the device. It’s designed to leverage the song discovery functionality, which is the key differentiator between it and other players, the iPod Nano most prominent among them.

Mossberg winges about the entire concept:

Personally, I found the preloaded music more of a hassle than a boon. It included both canned playlists and channels — preprogrammed radio stations. They featured numerous artists and genres I didn’t like, or actually hated, and I was forced to delete most of them and replace them with music I wanted to hear.

Before I could do this, however, I was amazed to find that Rhapsody wanted to keep adding its own choices to my player. The minute I plugged it into my PC, the service began downloading 73 songs of its own choosing to the Sansa, to “refresh” the choices that came on the device. Real says it plans to change this behavior to ask users first whether they want such a refresh.

I agree that Rhapsody should devise a way to pare down the genre list. Kanye West and Kenny Chesney aren’t often going to show up on the same favorites playlist, why pair them on a PAD, free or otherwise? But I’m intrigued by the referral engine’s usefulness on the portable player, as opposed to services like last.fm and Goombah which, good as they are, are tied to the desktop.

A genre checklist at startup would solve this problem easily. On first sync, launch a Sansa Rhapsody Preferences sub-application with a handy checklist. Whatever genre a user unchecks is removed from the device. Limit it to Rhapsody-To-Go content so tracks selected by the user aren’t deleted.

Of course, this opens up a whole range of possibilities for improvements. What if the Sansa Rhapsody analyzed the user’s listening habits at first synch and built a smart playlist from them? How about partnerships with streaming services that don’t sell subscriptions like last.fm, Mercora or Pandora that leverage usage habits and turn them into referral playlists?

Unfortunately, Mossberg’s too stuck on the song-stuffing problem to explore these issues. The rest of the piece is, unsurprisingly given his history, devoted to form factor. The Sansa Rhapsody is thicker than the Nano, that’s a problem, but it has a bigger screen and a replaceable battery – with a shorter life.

I’m interested in paradigm shifts, and find the discussion of a quarter inch here, and third of an ounce there tedious. How will it change the way I interact with my music? Do that first, then make it fit on the head of a pin – please.

Rhapsody’s explanation of the song list is worth reading – link.

By popular demand, here’s a screen shot of how to delete a song from the player:

rhapsody.jpg