Sandisk Sansa Clip

SanDisk Sansa ClipSanDisk calls it “The Tiny Wearable MP3 Player with Big Sound”. Absolute Gadget thinks it looks like a teeny iPod Classic. But does the Sansa Clip have the goods to tangle with Apple and co?

Well, it might be styled like an iPod mini-me, but it’s never going to compete with the full-blown Apple model. For one thing, the circular control that’s looks like an iPod Click Wheel is actually a four-way button pad. And there’s no option to view video on that basic screen.

Thankfully, the Sansa Clip isn’t trying to punch above its weight. It’s actually taking aim at Apple’s weaniest product – the Shuffle. And in that area it has a real shot at the title.

Kicking off our initial attraction is the Sansa’s good looks. It manages to appear small but impressive at the same time, which is a difficult act to pull off. The blue glowing light that surrounds the control pad also backlights the key functions. This mixes elegantly with the green track listing and timer and the yellow battery gauge and song number that are shown on the screen (at least this is how the colours appeared on our black Sansa Clip – it also comes in red, blue and pink).

SanDisk seems to have learned from Apple that it’s not just good enough to have a great looking product, it also has to do the job and be easy to use. On that score, the Sansa Clip hits the bullseye. Even without checking the manual it’s possible to figure out how to access your own uploaded music, listen to the FM radio or record your voice using the built-in mic.

Controls are also kept to a minimum to avoid overcrowding. A Home button lets you return to the main menu at any time, offering easy access to all functions. The play, pause, options and forward/back buttons make up the circular pad, with volume control separated out to the side for better access. A single slider bar acts as power button in one direction and locks the device by pushing it in the other.

And while you won’t be watching any video on that small screen, at least it has one! You’ll need to log in to iTunes with a Shuffle to see what you’re playing and set up playlists. Here, you know what track is playing and can choose to listen by artist, album, song, genre, playlist or your rating.

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That usability also transfers to plugging the device into your PC. Sure, you can use it like a standard USB drive and simply drag files onto it. But we chose to take advantage of the offer of syncing music files from Windows Media Player as soon as we plugged it in. This allowed us to highlight songs or pick entire albums to transfer across, with a handy guide displaying how much space we had left. Supported formats include MP3, WMA, secure WMA and Audible audio file formats. You’ll get up to 30 hours of music – around 500 songs – on the 2GB model, if you encode your MP3s at 128Kbps. Which means, maths fans, up to 15 hours and around 250 songs on the 1GB model (but you knew that, right?).

The FM radio – which could be seen as a tacked on feature – actually plays with surprisingly sharp sound. This is helped by homing in on a signal one tenth of a point at a time. Once you’ve found what you’re listening for, there are 40 pre-sets available to stop you following that slow process again. And the Sansa Clip’s recording function isn’t just wasted on your own thoughts. Those pearls of wisdom and top tunes doled out by radio DJs can also be captured for future reference.

Anyone with an existing product that uses a standard mini USB lead will also be happy to see that connection point on the side of the Clip. As this becomes ever more popular on devices, it cuts the amount of proprietary cables you need to bother carrying around (we can attest to this, using a single mini USB cable to deal with camera, smartphone and MP3 player). One concern here is that the connection point is left open to the elements. Some kind of stopper to shield it when it’s not in use would safeguard anything getting in there – especially as a device this inexpensive and small could well be bought by the kind of user that’s going to dump it in the bottom of their bag.

The usual low point when it comes to a product like this is the addition of a cheap pair of headphones. While the pair SanDisk has bundled won’t win any awards, we did prefer them to the ones Apple keeps insisting on including with its products. Leakage was minimal, so you’d have to be blasting your own eardrums to annoy those sitting near you. The quaint five minutes we spent fitting tiny foam headphone covers to them did take us back many years, though.

Battery life on the unit was also impressive. With a lot of unnecessary playing around with menus and listening to the sound of our own recorded voice, we didn’t really expect to get near the quoted 15 hour target – but our test time wasn’t far off. The only drawback is that, as with Apple music products, the rechargeable battery is embedded in the item and use over an extended amount of time will cause it to hold less charge.

Overall, if you’re looking for something to strap to your arm before you go jogging or something to clip to the inside of your suit jacket as you head into the daily commute, the Sansa Clip won’t disappoint.

Verdict: 9/10