Playaway Audio Book

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I work in a special library for K-12 educators and we do not, currently, have any audio books in circulation. I have been very curious about the Playaway audio books since I first read about them several months ago.

The Playaway audio book I was given to review is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The audio book is from Random House Audio and it is unabridged. The running time is 16 hours.

Package Contents

Playaway audio book
AAA battery
Playaway User Guide
Documentation on One-Year Limited Warranty, FCC Statement and Safety Precautions
Documentation: How many ways can you share your Playaway?

The audio book costs $49.99 from Playaway. I scrolled through some of the other titles available and they range from $30 up, at least on the first few pages of results from the Online Store. These are hardcover prices and, although I understand why they need to charge the hardcover price, it may be too pricey for some readers. Of course, if you are used to purchasing audio books on CD you will be used to these prices. If you are used to buying regular books for discounted prices you may have sticker shock.

The headphones are black earbuds and the black lanyard fits through a pull-up hook on the top of the audio book. By the way, you can use your own earbuds or other earphones.

There are several buttons on the small unit (the unit is about 2 inches wide and less than 3.5 inches long).

The buttons work very well on the Playaway and they give you several options:

1. Volume: You can increase the volume level from 1 to 10. Keep pushing the button to start over.

2. Voice Speed: There are three levels to choose from for voice speed: normal, fast and fastest.

3. Bookmark: You can set up to 50 bookmarks to mark key passages. You can move through the bookmarks and remove bookmarks.

4. Skip Back: You can skip to the previous chapter or bookmark.

5. LCD Screen: The LCD screen shows you chapter, time remaining in chapter and battery icon.

6. Skip Forward: Skip to the next chapter or bookmark.

7. Reverse: Scroll backwards.

8. Playaway Button: Used for Power On, Play, Pause and Power Off.

9. Fast Forward: scroll forward.

I used all of the buttons and they worked great. The audio on the Playaway is excellent. Very clear with no distortion at all.

I like this product. If you buy audio books on CD you should really give
this a try for walking and exercising. I have to admit that I use the
library for acquiring books. But if I purchased audio books, I would buy from
Playaway. I also see this product as a nice addition to a library
collection. I know that many libraries check out audio books on MP3 players
and on CD so the Playaway audio books would be a nice format to add to the


Product Information

  • Convenience
  • Sound quality
  • Inclusion of lanyard, earbuds and battery
  • Portability
  • Quality of product
  • Price (if you are not used to paying full hardcover prices)
  • Battery door a bit hard to remove

10 thoughts on “Playaway Audio Book”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. It’s a solution to a problem that’s already dying away. I have no doubt it’s probably well-implemented, but it won’t catch on. It would be an excellent thing for old people who want an alternative to tape that’s very simple, but because you’re not only locked into a format but locked into a *title*, it won’t work. Almost anybody younger or less afraid of technology will see this as a backward step, because swapping Playaway titles (on ebay, with friends, at the library) depends on the product being extremely successful, and there’s nothing to suggest it will be.

    I’d actually consider this for classic audiobooks that I’d listen to a number of times, but it has one big, big flaw the way they’re doing it with popular bestsellers: to be any use at all, there need to be quite a lot of titles easily available. It’s a small American company, not Sony or iTunes, so it’ll probably have a few sales over a couple of years and then sink without trace, leaving behind a hardcore of devoted listeners who swap titles over the Internet.

    It’s useless for libraries because it’s too big a risk of exactly this ‘the-format-won’t-take-off’ variety. Most public libraries are still doing audiobooks on tape/cd, with a small number doing modern digital formats with DRM. They know how to shelve tapes and CDs, there is shelving of the right size, and there is a huge selection of titles in a format which won’t disappear without trace in a year or two. In order to make the Playaway work for libraries, the market would have to take it up in a big way so they wouldn’t be investing in numbers of titles in an unsuccessful format (only available from one company), and I can’t see any way this would happen.

  3. As a long-time subscriber to Audible, I was interested in this new audiobook format, and I can see the point even if you already have a small portable device. I run my audiobooks off my Treo (I can use AudibleAir to download books on the go) and my Nano…both substantially smaller than the new format, and the titles are less expensive through Audible. I can see this as a good way to go if you are on the road somewhere and need to get an audiobook and don’t have access to a computer to download Audible content. Books on tape still cost a fortune, and ebooks for PDA’s now cost more than their bookstore analogue…but digital audiobooks are less expensive than their physical bretheren. It’s an interesting idea, and if it catches on, might be a decent replacement for the audiobook download while on the road. Thanks for the review!

  4. Although I agree with woofb that Playaway won’t succeed, I’m still rooting for them the same way I supported Palm all these years even though I knew the non-smartphone PDA was old technology. I have a difficult time believing that hardcover buyers will fork over $50 for a book-on-a-chip. Playaway’s audience is mostly current audio book listeners, not hardcover book fans. I have a half dozen e-books loaded on my Tungsten C right now (as well as one Audible title) and none cost me more than $15. I can’t actually recall the last time I spent more than $20 on a book that wasn’t a university class text…

  5. An Audible book on a Shuffle beats this for my own use. Plus the Audible format is re-downloadable.

    I can see it as a novelty gift for up to $20. I think libraries can make better use of their funds. Still it’s fun to see the gadget world at work!

  6. I am a school library media specialist and I disagree. I think that this could be an extremely valuable tool, especially for assistive technology in schools and school libraries. When addressing differential learning it is important to take into consideration that some students just have trouble comprehending written information. Having an all-in-one packaged audio book would allow them to listen to the words while following along in a book, a great teaching method, especially since even though it seems like everyone has a computer and an mp3 player, this is simply not true. Having an all-in-one package allows students who may not have working equipment at home to still take advantage of audio books. The playaway also has a slow play option which is key for this kind of use.

  7. I hadn’t actually considered the question of a particular market in Special Needs, but you’re quite right that it would serve that quite well. In the UK there seems to be a Read and Write initiative by the government or somebody which has brought out a lot of very short (novella-length) books in a package with the written text and audio tape and CD, so there obviously is a use for that concept. A school with a number of slow readers could do worse than get a bunch of Playaway titles, because they would indeed benefit from the independence from technology and the fact that it’s a locked-content device.

    My issue with the Playaway is that it’s aimed heavily at the mass market, with a selection of bestseller titles most people probably won’t want to read more than once, and I doubt it’ll take off.

    Locked content works seriously well for small-market applications where an institution buys a package of items with content loaded–modern museum audio tour guides are probably likely to work this way, so that the public isn’t likely to nick the thing and it’s kept simple.

    For the mass market, consumers or public libraries, there would be more to lose if the format didn’t take off. I can see benefits for public libraries in using the Playaway format: part of the title can’t be lost as with tapes and CDs, and it would discourage theft, but I think the large initial outlay and doubt over the format’s likely success would put them off. There’s also the risk of the library user losing the damn thing–cost of replacement would be high, and if the company goes under they’re stuck…

    For specific purposes, like the school with slow learners or companies doing training audio stuff, the Playaway concept would work a lot better. If they did classic texts where there might be a steady slow-trickle demand from students, that might also work. I feel they’re going to come up against the inertia and diversity of the mass market, though.

  8. I’d like to post a review of, a site I found that is very well laid out. It has only around 100 eBooks but they are the 100 most popular books in the public domain. Also, the site has photos of every book so you can be sure of what you’re downloading. As the website’s name suggests (, all mp3 audio book downloads are free.

  9. I was skeptical at first, but I think I figured out where these things will be a hit: libraries. I just borrowed “Factory Girls” from my library on one of these and it works great! No CDs to rip to my mp3 player, no risk of scratched disks (how many times have you had a scratched CD/DVD from the library?). If they cost about the same for the libraries, I think they’ll start using these more since they should last longer than the average audiobook. I see the collection increasinging weekly at my local library so I think they’ve caught on. As an aside, I’d love for someone to make an iTunes compatible audiobook solution for libraries. That would do away with playaway and give people the ability to download audiobooks for free legally (since the libraries are paying the licensing fees).

  10. Just checked out the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring Playaway from my library. I can just plug it into my car’s audio with the two headed headphone jack. Love it. No Disks to change.

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