Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sansa Clip 1GB/2GB/4GB - New Compact Flash Leader

BACKGROUND: I was in the market for a small MP3 player with primary usage at the gym. I was looking for a rechargeable unit as my previous player ate AAA batteries about every week or so. I considered three options of which the Sansa Clip was one of them. I eliminated the iPod Shuffle due to its cost and lack of display. The other primary contender was the Creative Zen Stone Plus (I rejected the non-Plus model due it its lack of display). I will reference how the Sansa Clip won out throughout the rest of the review.

SET UP: The Sansa Clip is about as simple as it gets in this area. It requires no additional software installation. My home system runs XP SP2 with Windows Media Player 11. When I plugged the player in to charge, it was detected and recognized automatically. I told windows to "Take No Action" as the default behavior when the device connects. This allows me to maintain complete control over the syncing process. My unit charged in about an hour.

MUSIC TRANSFER: You have the option of using simple drag and drop of MP3 files to the device as you would a USB flash drive. However, using Windows Media Player allows you the more advanced feature of playlists. Since I primarily use my MP3 player at the gym, I created multiple playlists for warm up, workout, and cool down. The workout lists are about 90 minutes while the others about 20 minutes. I really liked that I was able to create multiples of each for variety. Right now I have three of each with about 1.5 Gb still remaining to use as I please. Using Windows Media Player, you can sync albums, songs, or playlists as you would with any other device. The Sansa Clip fully supports all of these options so it is a nice low effort, highly functional set up.

SOUND QUALITY: This is an area where the Sansa Clip is pretty impressive. I previously had the Sansa M230, and I can tell a significant difference in sound quality. I am able to hear a lot more detail in the higher ranges (such as high hat cymbals). I am using the headphones that came with the unit, but I would image that higher quality headphones would sound even better. The player also has a series of preset equalizer settings for different music styles as well as one that you can customize.

DISPLAY: This is a distinguisher between the Clip and the Zen Stone Plus. The display is larger and easier to read. The mix of blue and yellow against the black background is also pleasant.

NAVIGATION: The Clip has a normal four button dial that is common to most small MP3 players. With the crisp, clear display it is easy to move around and select music by artist, album, song, or playlist. The only thing that I have noticed that doesn't work quite the way I would like is that if you navigate away from the song that is playing there doesn't seem to be a way to get back to it to see the details of what's playing. This is pretty minor, though, because I do not regularly navigate away from the song that is playing.

FM RADIO: This is about what you would expect from a unit with no external antenna. Strong signals come in clearly, but it is not going to match what you can pick up on your car stereo. This is a nice to have feature for me so it is plenty adequate.

OPTIONS: As I mentioned previously, my primary usage comes at the gym. I had used the song timer to measure the time between reps while lifting weights on my M230. However, the Clip has a power saving feature that shuts off the display after 15 seconds by default. However, you can change this to 30, 45, 60, or 90 seconds which should cover your needs. After adjusting mine, I wake up the display after completing a set. When the display shuts off, it's time for the next set.

USE ON THE GO: This is the other area where the Clip separates itself from the Zen Stone Plus. You can clip the player to your clothes or an arm strap (I use the one that came with my M230). The Zen Stone Plus requires purchase of a separate armband accessory for an additional $15.

COST: At base price, the Zen Stone Plus and Sansa Clip are a push. However if you factor in another $15 for an armband you have a clear winner given the other advantages.

CONCLUSION: The Sansa Clip is now the leader in 1/2/4 Gb small MP3 players. Give it a spin and you won't be disappointed.