iPods are great music players, but there are also other options. The Sansa Fuze is an iPod nano competitor. The Fuze has an FM radio and a built-in voice recorder; two features that the nano lacks, so we decided to take a look and see how the Fuze stacks up against the iPod and other portable music players.
The Fuze comes in a plastic clamshell case with a cardboard enclosure, shown in Figure 1. You will want to get out the scissors to release the Fuze from its plastic entrapment. Once that is done, you will find the Fuse, a proprietary USB charging cable, a pair of typical hard, round ear buds, a mini software CD, a small fabric case, a set of “let’s get playing” cards, and a small tri-fold page entitled “Getting Music on Your SanDisk Sansa Fuze” (shown in Figure 2).
The Fuze is a fairly small device measuring 3.1" x 1.9" x .3" (78.75 mm x 48.25 mm x 7.62 mm) and weighing in at 2.1 oz (59.5 g). The screen measures 1.9.” The back has a dull, slightly rubberized feel while the front is smooth and shiny. The non-skid finish on the back keeps the Fuze in place on a desk or a pile of papers and gives it a good feel in the hand. The Fuze comes in five colors: blue, red, pink, black or silver. The red Fuze 4 GB that we reviewed is a nice deep rich color. You can choose from three capacities: 2 GB, 4 GB or 8 GB.
[nextpage title=”Installation and Media Transfer”]
The Apple iPod became the most popular digital music player because both the hardware and software were easy to install and easy to use. Unfortunately, Sansa did not follow Apple’s lead in the software area. For an uninitiated user, getting started with the Fuze can be a bit of a nightmare. The Fuze comes with a small set of cards labeled “Let’s get playing.” The first thing these cards tell you to do is to connect your Fuze to the computer to charge it. Yet when you do this, you get a pop up message with several choices including asking if you want to Sync this device using Windows Media Player. There is no mention of this on the cards, so you are left scratching your head as to what to do. On top of that, the trifold card labeled “Getting Music on Your SanDisk Sansa Fuze” gives you different instructions which tell you to install the included Rhapsody Software before you connect your Fuze to the PC.
In another faux pas, the installation card explains that you must create an account on a paid-service called Rhapsody to activate all of the features on the Fuze. Although this is true, you are not told until the small print at the bottom of the last page that a 14-day free trial to Rhapsody is included with your Fuze purchase. And you are never told which features are not available without a monthly Rhapsody subscription, which we assumed to be the use of the Rhapsody channels which provides constantly updated music of different genres. On top of that, unlike the free trial that comes with the Microsoft Zune digital music player, you must give a credit card to register for the free trial and you will be charged for future months unless you cancel within 14 days.
Like the Microsoft Zune software, Rhapsody is a digital music service that lets you listen to a large variety of different music on a monthly fee basis. Rhapsody currently charges $12.99 a month and all the music you collect will disappear if you cancel your membership. In comparison, the Microsoft Zune subscription is a better deal. They charge $9.99 a month and give you three free MP3s a month to keep, even if you cancel.
In our testing, the Rhapsody software was a disaster. Although we had signed up and were already logged in, the software made us register again and enter our credit card information a second time to access the Rhapsody channels. The channels seem very good. You can choose different genres of music which are updated regularly. We chose several and they played perfectly on our PC, but when we tried to sync them with the Fuze, we got error after error. The Rhapsody folks never answered our email call for help, so we simply gave up on the Rhapsody service.
However, you don’t really need Rhapsody to use the Fuze. You can simply use your computer to drag and drop music to the device. You can also use the Windows Media Player that is included in Windows to sync your music. However, none of these methods is as seamless as synching an iPod with iTunes, a Zune with the Zune software or a Creative Zen with the Creative software. In Rhapsody and in Windows Media Player you need to create playlists to sync with your device. While most advanced digital music users are quite used to creating playlists, this is an added step that neophytes might find confusing. It is not, however, necessary if you just want to drag and drop your music onto the player.
Although not mentioned in the documentation, you can also use the Fuze with music subscription served other than Rhapsody. It can easily be used with Napster and eMusic.
The Fuze supports several transfer protocols including MSC and MTP but it comes set to “Auto Detect” which is good for the average user. This choice can be reset by accessing the Settings in the player. Although Sansa only provides support for Windows, the ability to use MSC lets the player act like a thumb drive which allows it to be used with the Mac and Linux operating systems. MTP is the protocol used by most players. It allows you to take advantage of subscription services such as Napster or Rhapsody and lets you create playlists with software like Windows Media Player. This protocol is limited to use by Windows XP SP 2/3 and Vista computers.
The Fuze is one of the few players that lets you choose the transfer protocol that suits your needs.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]
As shown in Figure 3, the main controls are on the front of the Fuze. They consist of a raised scroll wheel with a nicely defined selection button in the middle and a home button that takes you to the Main Menu choices. The scroll wheel is responsive and easy to use. The top of the wheel is a Play/Pause and scroll up area. The bottom scrolls down a list of choices and gives you submenu and option choices. The left side of the scroll wheel will rewind or take you to a previous selection and the right side will take you to the next selection or go forward. You can also turn the wheel to make your selections.
The right side of the Fuze, as shown in Figure 4, has a small toggle switch. Pushing it toward the bottom of the device will hold (lock) the controls. Pushing it toward up to the middle position will unlock the device. Pushing the toggle toward the top of the device will turn the player on and off. While this may sound a bit complicated, it is really intuitive and easy to use.
The bottom of the Fuze, shown in Figure 5, has a port for the proprietary USB sync/charge cable and a standard headphone port. The left side of the device, shown in Figure 6, has a place where you can increase the storage by adding a MicroSD card. The Fuze can accommodate both microSD and microSDHC cards up to 16 GB. Next to the card opening is a small microphone.
The Fuze is easy to use. Even user new to digital music players will be able to perform all the major functions easily. The Main Menu choices, shown in Figure 7, include Music, Voice, FM Radio, Photos, Videos, Rhapsody Channels, and Settings. Like most digital music players, the Fuze lets you look up music by song, artist, album, genre, playlists, and top-rated. The Fuze does not have alphabet letters that appear on the screen as you scroll through your music as you find on the Microsoft Zune. While this is helpful if you have a lot of music, you won’t miss it if you have a limited collection of music.
One of the best things about the Fuze is that you can increase the storage with a MicroSD card. Unlike the Creative Zen, the music from the card is fully integrated with the music on device’s internal memory. When you view the music on your computer you can see where the music is located (internal memory or external card). However, when you are using the Fuze, the music is integrated so that a song will be listed under the proper artist whether it is on the device’s internal memory or any your SC card. Kudos to Sansa on this. This is the way an add-on memory card should work!
The Fuze supports MP3, WMA, secure WMA, WAV, and MPEG4. It also handles audio books and podcasts in the AA & AA4 (Audible), WMA, WAV, and MP3 file formats. In addition to the usual audio formats mentioned here, the Fuze also supports OGG, an open source audio encoding and FLAC, a free lossless audio codec. While this might not mean much to the average user, audio-phoebes will be excited to see this type of support, which is unusual for MP3 players.
The sound quality of the Fuze is excellent and it also has support for EQ.
The FM radio is clear and easy to use and comes with the ability to have 40 preset stations. If you plan on using the radio a lot, you may want to try out different headphones because they act as the antennae for FM reception. The Fuze has a nice feature in that it allows you to record FM radio for future playback. You cannot schedule recordings, but you can start a recording and set duration. Those addicted to a certain radio show will certainly find this feature enticing. Adding the ability to schedule recordings would make this a must-have device for FM lovers. The FM recordings are stored as a WAV file on the main memory, so you must have enough room for them on the device.
The voice recorder lets you make voice recordings quite easily. These are also stored in the WAV format. The recordings are named by date and time of recording. Both radio and voice recordings can be easily transferred to the computer.
The Sansa screen is not as crisp as it could be. It is certainly adequate for making menu choices and viewing pictures. Video playback is adequate, but not impressive. Yet, with the small screen size, most will not be using this player for serious video playback. Luckily the screen brightness can be changed in the Settings menu. Although this will use more battery power, it will help screen readability and is a necessary adjustment for viewing in sunlight. The Sansa plays videos in the MPEG4 format. Although most videos played smoothly, several that played well on other players were slightly choppy on the Fuze.
Sansa rates the battery at 24 hours for audio and 5 hours for video. With the screen brightness at mid-level, the device consistently gave us will play for about 20-21 hours for audio. Like most other players of this size, the battery is not user-replaceable.
We would love to see the ability to personalize the player’s background as you can in the Microsoft Zune and some other players. The Fuze gives you only the ability to change the background color. However, given the slight lack of clarity of the screen, perhaps sticking to solid backgrounds is the best option.
Although some Sansa players have been plagued with stability issues, in several weeks of constant use, our Fuze performed admirable. It froze once, but simply turning it off and back on again returned it to normal.
Sandisk Sansa Fuze main specifications are:
- Capacities: 2 GB, 4 GB and 8 GB
- Colors: Black, Pink, Red, Blue and Silver
- Dimensions: 3.1" x 1.9" x .3" (78.75 mm x 48.25 mm x 7.62 mm)
- Weight: 2.1 oz (59.5 g)
- Screen Size: 1.9" landscape
- Connection: USB 2.0
- Expansion Slot: microSD/SDHC
- Battery: 24 hours of music and 5 hours of video playback
- Radio: FM tuner/40 presets
- Recorder: Built-in microphone
- File Support: MP3, OGG, FLAC, WMA, secure WMA, WAV, Audible, MPEG4
- More information: https://www.sansa.com
- Suggested Retail Price: USD 79.99 (2 GB), USD 99.99 (4 GB) and USD 119.99 (8 GB)
The Sansa Fuze is a capable music player, with several great features as well as a few poor ones. The excellent sound quality, good build, small footprint, and price makes it a fairly inexpensive, everyday player. The expansion slot that accepts micro SD/SDHC cards is a big plus (Sandisk sells micro SD cards with pre-loaded musics, a concept called "slot music"), as is the good FM tuner and the ability to record both voice and radio. While the screen is adequate, it is not the best we’ve seen and video playback could be better.
- Fairly inexpensive
- Good sound quality
- Solid design
- Good FM radio
- Easy to use interface
- Responsive controls
- FLAC and OGG support
- Good battery life
- Choice of MSC and MTP
- Excellent integration of external card media
- Poor documentation
- Screen not as crisp as others
- Rhapsody can be problematic
- Weak video playback