Easy to use and tremendous value for the dollar. (March 19th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: SanDisk
Price: $100 (4GB)
- Excellent (if not original) design and physical controls.
- Continues to use a solid software interface.
- Very low price for the feature set and quality.
- Software-independent; works with Linux, Macs, and Windows.
- FM radio, microSD slot, and voice recording.
- Good DRM support for those who need it.
- Unnecessarily pulls AAC and H.264 support; pixelated video.
- Simplistic radio and voice recording.
- Slightly scratch-prone front face.
- Cost of microSDHC high enough to reduce the immediate value of the card slot.
audio and video quality, the earbuds, and formats
A lingering question for many veterans of SanDisk's players was the choice of audio chipset. Those that tried the View found that the company had chosen a lower-quality chipset whose output wasn't quite as accurate as on past players. Paradoxically, the Clip -- a budget player -- actually generates higher-quality sound than its bigger, more feature-rich cousin.
Thankfully, the Fuze appears to borrow from the Clip. Tests using Shure E2c earbuds, which should provide solid (though not extremely detailed) sound, show that the Fuze generates a very clean sound using high-bitrate (320Kbps) songs. There are no obvious signs of muddled bass or lost detail in the middle or high ranges. That said, the sound quality is also not that much different in practice than that of the iPod line (excepting the shuffle) or the Zune. While it's possible to tell that better earphones would produce better results, the difference isn't enough to justify jumping from most big-name players to the Fuze, especially not when many quality earphones would cost as much as a 4GB Fuze all by themselves.
The factory-bundled earbuds are not particularly special. From a comfort perspective, they hold a slight advantage over the iPod through an easier ability to hook on the earlobe, but the audio quality itself is typical pack-in earbud fare. It won't convert audiophiles and tends to produce a noticeable (though not extreme) muddiness to the overall sound. If saving money on buying earbuds is an important concern, skip directly to Sony's newer A-series Walkmen or the Zune 80, both of which come with better-than-average earbuds.
Image quality depends entirely on what's being viewed. As the screen is even denser than that for the iPod nano or Sony A-series, still photos look very sharp; they also tend to be very colorful and bright, revealing that the screen is up to the task.
Video, on the other hand, isn't as polished, and appears to reveal this latest Sansa's chief weakness: format support. Curiously, SanDisk has pulled support for H.264 video that was present in the View, leaving the Fuze with relatively low-bitrate, pixelated videos compared to the larger player as well as many rivals both old and new. This extends to audio, too, with AAC having been stripped out and leaving just MP3, WAV and WMA for non-protected formats. This strikes me as an arbitrary decision meant to shelter sales of the View; if for performance reasons, was a faster chipset necessarily going to cost enough to justify leaving out support for potential iPod converts?
Protected audio support is at least above average. Like most Sansas, the Fuze is rare in supporting more than two copy protection schemes. With Audible and Overdrive DRM for e-books as well as Windows Media, the player does have support for most online music stores, including all-you-can-eat subscription services. Even if you object to copy-protected digital music on principle, it remains true that the Fuze will have more options for music purchases than most.