Editors' note: The rating of this product has increased to reflect significant enhancements offered by a firmware update. Find out more information.
Thanks to its position as a memory chip manufacturer, SanDisk is a master at cost competing in the portable audio space, and although companies such as Creative Labs are now tagging at about the same level, SanDisk's initial aggressiveness earned it the No. 2 spot in sales (behind Apple, natch)--and a reputation for producing cheap MP3 players. The company's latest device, an ultracompact model dubbed the Sansa Clip, is no exception: The 1GB model comes in at a mere $40, while the 2GB is on offer for a no less reasonable $70. But don't let the price fool you: The Clip offers a respectable 92dB signal-to-noise ratio. This player is out to prove that "cheap" doesn't have to mean subpar sound quality.
Simple and small
At 2.2 inches by 1.4 inches by 0.5 inch (without the belt clip attached), the Sansa Clip isn't quite "smaller than a matchbox," but it is about the same size as one. It's one of the most compact players we've come across in recent times, though it is slightly larger than its closest competitor, the Creative Zen Stone Plus. However, the Clip's rectangular, 1-inch screen makes for better navigation than the Stone's itty bitty circular display. Also, the Clip lets you navigate music by artist, album, and so on, whereas the Stone offers very little track organization. Like the Stone, the Clip comes in a variety of colors: sleek black, candy apple red, hot pink, and ice blue. The black version is available in both capacities, while the colors come in 2GB only. As the name suggests, the Clip also comes with a removable belt clip in a color to match the player. This feature and its ultracompact size make it ideal for the gym.
The controls on the Sansa Clip are also similar to those of its competitor: Below the screen is a circular, four-way control pad surrounding a center select button. While you're within the menus, up/down cycles through options on the current screen, while right/left steps deeper into the highlighted option (or backs out). Once on the playback screen, pressing up plays or pauses the track, down pulls up a contextual menu, and right/left shuttles through tracks. Beneath the four-line, dual-color OLED screen, is one other key: a home button that cycles between the main menu and the playback screen. There's also a dedicated volume rocker on the right spine of the device, something that we are happy--and surprised--to see on such a small player. A standard 3.5mm headphone jack sits above the rocker, while the left side of the Clip houses a power/hold switch and a standard mini USB port. All these ports and controls may seem like a lot for such a small device, but everything is well laid out and the main control pad is large enough for comfortable navigation, so it's really quite ergonomic and easy to use overall.
Not small on features
Don't let the size of the Sansa Clip betray you: The player offers several desirable features. Of course, with the very tiny and simple screen, photo and video playback are notably absent--but that's really to be expected in a device at this price point. What you do get is support for MP3, WMA (unprotected/protected), OGG, FLAC, and Audible files. The player has even integrated Rhapsody DNA, meaning you can transfer Rhapsody Channels (dynamically updating radio stations/playlists). Sadly, our review unit had an error that prevented it from becoming licensed within the Rhapsody interface, so we haven't yet had a chance to fully test the integration. (Bear with us until we get a replacement player and update this review.)