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There’s no doubt that Apple has corralled the portable digital music player world with their iPod players. Yet other manufacturers continue to improve their players in an effort to compete. To that end, Sansa has completely revamped their Sansa Fuze player. With a new capacitive touch-strip navigation pad and lower prices, the new Sansa Fuze+ may be the MP3 player choice for some.
The Sansa Fuze+ Plus comes in a colorful package, shown in Figure 1. The Fuze+ itself, which is visible through the plastic packaging, is also colorful. Our review unit was Electra blue, but the Fuze+ also comes in four other colors: Flamenco red, Birch white, Solstice black, and Zinfandel purple. The Fuze+ comes in 4 GB, 8 GB, and 16 GB capacities. Depending on the capacity, the players are priced at USD 79, USD 89, and USD 119. It should be noted, however, that not all colors are available in all capacities. For example, the 16 GB capacity is available only in black while the purple and white are only available in the 8 GB capacity.
As shown in Figure 2, The Fuze+ Plus comes with a small Getting Started Guide, a micro-USB connection cable, and a pair of hard earbuds with thin foam removable covers. Figure 3 shows a small Getting Music tri-fold that explains how to use the online Rhapsody music service to get music on the player. The Sansa comes with a 14-day trial membership to Rhapsody.
The Fuze+ itself is shown in Figure 4. Although it is an all-plastic construction, feels sturdy. At 3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 inches (7.87 x 4.8 x 0.76 mm), it fits easily in the hand. The rounded corners give it a nice tactile feel. The most notable thing, however, is its weight, which at 6 oz (170 g) feels like a feather-weight. This new Fuze+ is a bit longer and thicker than the original Fuze, but it adds a larger 2.4-inch screen and a new touch pad below the screen.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]
The 2.4-inch LCD screen is a QVGA screen with a resolution of 320 x 240. It is crisp and clear, even in bright sunlight, but it is not a touch screen. Rather, there is a capacitive touch panel just below the screen, as shown in Figure 5.
As you can see in Figure 5, the touch panel has a simplistic look. As a matter of fact, the only way you know that it is a touch panel is by lines and icons which are painted on the surface in silver. To use the touchpad, you simply swipe up and down or back and forth. You tap in the middle to make a selection. To the top right of the panel is the play/pause icon. To the top left is the back icon. These can be pressed to make a choice, but we found a quick tap to be more effective. Although the touch panel is a great feature, its sensitivity drove us crazy. At times the response was sluggish enough to be aggravating. At times it seemed too responsive causing us to skip past the choice we wanted. Even fast forwarding or rewinding was erratic. Often, when we wanted to rewind to hear something again, the overly responsive touchpad took us back to the beginning of what we were listening to. This was especially annoying when listening to podcasts.
Because of the touch panel, this device has only a minimal number of physical buttons. The right side, shown in Figure 6, has only the microUSB port.
The left side of the Sansa Fuze+, shown in Figure 7, has a volume rocker and a slot for a MicroSD card. Since SanDisk is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of memory cards, it is not surprising that this is where the Fuze+ shines. This device can handle up to 32 GB of extra memory on the MicroSDHC card. The memory slot is also compatible with SanDisks’ line of SlotRadio music cards which offer preloaded music based on themes, genres, and/or artists.
The bottom of the Fuze+ has only one opening, which is a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack, as shown in Figure 8.
The on/off control is the only button on the top of the Fuze+. Unfortunately, this button has very little give, so it is difficult to tell if your press actually registered or not. On top of that the player takes a surprisingly long time (up to 15 seconds) to boot up, adding to the confusion of whether or not you have actually turned it on.
At first, we still found ourselves having to press the button more than once, just to turn the device on. After reading the User’s Guide, we found that you have to press the on button and hold it down for 2 seconds to turn the player on or off. With that information we were able to easily turn it on and off, but still didn’t appreciate the slow boot up. Fortunately, this Fuze is quick to wake up from the sleep mode.
[nextpage title=”Using the Fuze+”]
The interface on the Fuze+ is quite intuitive and when you can get the touchpad to work properly, it is easy to navigate.
You can flip through the main menu to get options for music, video, photo, radio, podcast, voice recording, MicroSD card, and settings. We found the menu choices to be intuitive. We liked the fact that there was a sep
arate category for podcasts, as shown in Figure 10. We also enjoyed the ability to do voice recording, play FM radio, and to record radio programs. These recordings are stored as WAV files, so they can be easily transferred to and played on other devices including the computer.
The Settings menu, shown in Figure 11, has a myriad of settings that you can adjust including brightness, sleep mode, equalizer, replay gain, and volume level. There are also a large variety of different languages available.
In fact, you can even turn off the main menu choices. So if you never look at videos or listen to podcasts, each of these can be turned off in the main menu. That means that so you don’t have to scroll through them when working with the device.
Our only complaint was that the menu choices didn’t loop. So when you get to the last choice, which is settings, you cannot keep going and get back to the first choice as you can with many other devices. Instead, on this Fuze you must navigate to the right, get to the end, and then navigate to the left for other choices.
The audio quality on the Fuze+ is good enough to suit the average listener. It is on the par with the iPod Nano. There are EQ presets that can be adjusted to your taste. The fantastic thing about the Fuze+ is that it supports a really large variety of audio formats including: MP3, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, WAV, Audible, protected WMA (Rhapsody, Napster), SlotRadio content, and AAC.
The inclusion of support for AAC is new for the Fuze line of players and is very welcome since iTunes, by default, creates music in that format. This means that you can attach the Fuze to your computer and drag your unprotected music out of iTunes right into the Fuze. This will allow iTunes users and ex-iPod users to continue to use Apple’s software even if they don’t want to purchase a player from pricier iPod lineup.
This Fuze can also be used to display photos and to play videos. In fact, photos appear full screen and have good color accuracy. As for videos, the Fuze+ can play most standard definition content in h.264, WMV, or MPEG-4 format. Although the screen is pretty small, the videos are quite good with a smooth playback and good colors. SanDisk has a free downloadable application called the Sansa Media Converter which can be used to convert videos that happen to be in other formats. To their credit, this software even includes the ability to convert videos that were taken with the Flip camcorder.
Battery life for the Fuze+ is rated at 24 hours of audio and 5 hours of video, which is very good, especially given the low price point.
Unfortunately, for uninitiated users, SanDisk doesn’t provide any desktop management software. Moving music to the player can be done by dragging and dropping or you can use any compatible software like Windows Media Player 10, which will let you transfer music, playlists, and podcasts to the player quite easily. You can also use other software. For example, you can play Audible books on the Fuze by using Audible’s Audible Manager software. The online User Guide is clearly written and will walk you through the daily operations.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Sandisk Sansa Fuze+ MP3 player include:
- Dimensions: 3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 inches (7.87 x 4.8 x 0.76 mm)
- Weight: 6.1 oz (170 g)
- Capacities: 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB
- Colors: Electra blue, flamenco red, birch white, solstice black, and zinfandel purple
- Screen: 2.4" QVGA (320 x 240, 30 FPS) LCD
- Audio formats: MP3, WMA, Secure WMA, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, AAC, Audible, Podcasts
- Video formats: MPEG-4, H.264, WMV and Flip Video
- Photo formats: JPEG and BMP; photo formats can be further extended with Sansa Media Converter PC software download∞, enabling TIFF, GIF, and PNG formats
- Radio: Digital FM tuner with record functions
- Battery: Rechargeable battery lasts up to 24 hours for audio playback and 5 hours of video playback
- Ports: Hi-speed micro-USB 2.0 port
- Memory slot: Expandable microSDTM card slot and microSDHCTM card slot
- More information: https://www.sandisk.com
- MSRP in the US:USD 79.99 (4 GB), USD 89.99 (8 GB), USD 199.99 (16 GB)
The Sansa Fuze+ wins the prize for the music player with the most functionality at an affordable price. It includes an FM radio with the ability to record radio, a voice recorder, a photo viewer, good video playback, a MicroSD card slot for expansion, the ability to play slotRadio cards, good battery life, and the ability to play a wide range of formats (including MP3,FLAC, AAC, and OGG to name just a few).
All of this functionality comes at an excellent price. As we write this, an 8 GB iPod Nano is selling for USD 149 while the 8 GB Fuze+ costs only USD 89. The Fuze+ has similar audio quality to the iPod, but it also has a larger screen, video playback, more audio settings, removable storage capabilities, an FM radio, and voice recording. It even displays photos with better accuracy than the Nano.
While the interface is excellent, the biggest drawback of the Fuze+ is the erratic touch panel. It simply doesn’t respond consistently. After a few weeks of use, we got somewhat used to it, but still were sometimes annoyed while using it.
The ability to use slotRadio card should not be overlooked. You can purchase a slotRadio card that contains 1,000 songs for USD 40. It is an excellent way to get music into the player without ever having to use the computer or spend time downloading songs.
The Fuze+ delivers solid quality and great functionality at a very affordable price. If you can live with its erratic touchpad, it is a bargain. If SanDisk can make the touchpad more consistently responsive, it will have a real iPod killer in this product.
- Solid build
- Reasonable price
- Excellent format support, including ACC
- Expandable memory card
- Plays slotRadio cards
- FM radio
- Voice and radio recording
- Variety of colors and capacities
- Good video playback
- Erratic touchpad
- Small screen
- No sync software included