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.
Finding a truly cross-platform media player is very difficult. Most either depend on a proprietary software player available only for certain operating systems or else have no software at all, depending instead on drag-and-drop transfers which themselves sometimes work only with Windows.
SanDisk has gone a long way to solve these problems on the Fuze. Windows is still the preferred host: in most cases, it's only there that media can be automatically synchronized. However, as with the more recent Sansa line, SanDisk uses a generic system that works with most universal platforms in Microsoft's OS, including WinAmp and Windows Media Player.
In Linux and Mac OS X, the main issues are choices: most of these replacements don't exist. Even so, it's possible to drag-and-drop songs or whole folders on to clearly labeled folders when the Fuze is mounted as mass storage. It's not a perfect solution, but it's enough that switchers from Windows won't have to cast aside the Fuze to keep listening to music and a decided step up from players locked into custom applications.
battery life and extras: FM radio, microSD, voice recording
SanDisk claims to essentially match other device makers in battery endurance, and that bore out in my testing: the approximately 25 hours of continuous playback was slightly better than the officially claimed 24 hours, though not as extreme as the 31.5 hours achieved with a third-generation iPod nano. Differences in audio quality for loaded content can affect this time; suffice it to say, however, that the Fuze should at least last long enough for a long airplane ride or a weekend camping trip.
The extras on the Sansa Fuze are appreciated, but feel somewhat like niceties rather than decisive advantages in their current form. The FM tuner allows presets but doesn't have an auto-scan function, instead forcing the user to hold a directional button down to cycle through channels until an identifiable channel appears. Microsoft's Zune does have this and seems more elegant as a result.
I would also question somewhat the usefulness of the voice recorder. It's a very simple affair with start, stop, and pause controls. This may be convenient for short personal memos, but it's not especially well-suited to recording long events. There's no built-in way to pick the recording format and choose between space (such as an MP3) or quality (such as WAV), or any way to amend a recording once it's done. And without the guarantee of an external microphone to replace the internal unit, it may not be the best for noisy lecture halls.
The option of microSDHC storage is more useful, though more for the future than today. Current microSD and SDHC cards are relatively pricey compared to their full-size counterparts and may add too much to the cost of such an inexpensive device. As a form of insurance policy against obsolescence, however, it may well be wise: with microSDHC cards already up to 8GB and larger ones promised soon, it should ultimately be less expensive to drop in a card than to replace the player outright if the stock 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB isn't enough.