Sunday, April 8, 2012

Comparison Shopper: Sansa MP3 players - Fuze+ Vs Clip Zip

Advance warning: there will probably be very little writing related content in this week's post. Hopefully you are as relieved about that as I am. If not, no worries. I'm planning a year-one review/retrospective/report-card type thingee in the next few weeks that should scratch that itch quite nicely.

Today's blog is all about a category of tech I use on a daily basis: MP3 players. Note that when I say MP3 player, I really mean PMP (personal media players.) I will be covering a lot of personal use characteristics in order to make this comparison helpful. The most important is this: I use my MP3 players almost exclusively for podcasts and audiobooks. If your interest is mainly in music, and especially if you are an audiophile with a huge collection that you want to carry, my understanding is that neither of these players may be the best option, although installing Rockbox seems to alleviate most people's concerns.

I own roughly one bajillion devices that are capable of playing audio files (most can also handle pictures, text, and video as well.) Only two are truly portable and small enough for regular use: a very dumb phone that I only use for--Gasp!--phone calls and SMS messaging and an Olympus digital voice recorder (VN-8100PC) that really deserves its own review. Both are often used simultaneously with a PMP, so neither is appropriate as a full-time solution. I understand the allure of the smartphone (i- or android, pick your flavor), but I've found that multiple, dedicated gadgets work far better for me. Battery life, price per item, and ease of multitasking are all factors.

Anyway, enough with background material and rational, and on with the comparison.

I've used a Fuze+ for approximately 20-30 hours a week for the last year and half, since not long after the launch of the device. I originally hoped to use it in a similar manner to how I actually use tablets now, for playing videos (mostly podcasts, as is a large portion of my listening) as well as audio. The Fuze+'s screen is really nice for navigation, but not good for video. The optimal viewing angle is portrait mode, at an angle (the way a user looks at it when navigating menus.) As a result, landscape-view looks terrible.

The Clip Zip, on the other hand, features a tiny 96x96 screen and no native video capability. With Rockbox installed, you can play videos on it, but the screen is the worst possible quality, so there isn't much point. The Fuze+ isn't a good choice for video, but it still beats out the Clip Zip. Same for photos (also not supported by stock firmware on the Clip Zip.)

Both have recording functions that are good in a quiet room, but awful in a moving vehicle due to interference. Both have an FM radio that works decently. Both use microUSB for transfer and charging. Both have microSD slots. Both have the same EQ and audio playback functions, which are very good. Both have excellent sound quality, which is the main point, right?

A side-note concerning the microSD slots: this is the reason I don't have any interest in i-products. Not having a physical way to expand memory and hotswap files is incredibly clumsy and consumer-unfriendly. I also have no interest in proprietary formats, connectors, and so on. No USB and SD support (any flavor, regular to micro) = no sale.

Everything else roughly equivalent, with the following exceptions: the CZ's firmware is slightly better, the CZ features a stopwatch (woo-hoo), the C+ has better battery life (although the CZ's is more than adequate for a full workday), the 4GB CZ is about half the price of the 8GB F+, and the physical controls are different. The last two are the most salient points. To be blunt: the touch controls on the F+ are frustratingly awful, even with the newest firmware; the physical buttons of the CZ are simple, easy, and a relief after a year and a half of torture :) .

An 8GB version of the CZ is available, but at a $20 or so premium. This is overpriced compared to the simpler expedient of adding an  SD card (I can get a 4GB for around $5 these days.) I haven't actually bothered yet, because it turns out 4Gb is enough (not roomy, but adequate.) I will probably add that SD card eventually, but am in no hurry.

So, that covers the main points. I think it's time for a pro/con list.


Pros: large screen, slightly better battery life, 8GB memory in lowest priced model

Cons: Terrible touch-pad interface, slightly less well-developed firmware, heavier and bulkier than the CZ

Clip Zip

Pros: physical buttons, small and light, handy clip, half the price of Fuze+, nearly stable Rockbox port available, stopwatch

Cons: ugly and small screen, native firmware doesn't support photo/video, only 4GB in lowest priced model


Considering that both are really only useful as music players, and that the touch interface is so god-awful compared to physical buttons, I am much happier with the Clip Zip than I was with the Fuze+. Add Rockbox and a cheap SD card and the CZ does 90% of what the Fuze+ does, at a little more than half the cost, and in a much handier and more convenient form factor.

And that's all I got. Any question, feel free to ask in the comments. See you next week.

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