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MP3 players have slowly been replaced by smartphones, but if you find yourself in the rare situation of needing one, luckily for you their near-extinct status means lower prices. The simple SanDisk Clip Jam is compellingly cheap enough to justify buying it just for the gym. For just $40 or £30 in the UK (converts to AU$54 in Australia) this super lightweight music player boasts a built-in clip, has a no-frills digital screen for easy browsing and it works with both PCs and Macs.
The Clip Jam lacks the Bluetooth found in the Apple iPod Nano -- so don't expect to use your wireless headphones or speakers. And though it's small, it's not as sleek as the tiny iPod Shuffle -- but it is cheaper than both Apple music players. Additionally, the SanDisk MP3 player has one feature no Apple iPod has ever had: a microSD card expansion slot. Using this, you can increase its built-in 8GB storage with an extra 64GB. It's no infinite cloud of streaming music, but it's a lot more space than the Shuffle (2GB) and Nano (16GB) offer.
Best of all, you don't have to use iTunes to transfer your music -- just drag and drop your music files. (The Clip Jam shows up as an external drive when connected to your Mac or Windows PC.). Though its sound quality can't compare to expensive high-res music players, the Clip Jam sounds fine -- unless you're audiophile, you won't notice the difference between listening to this or an iPod. In addition to MP3, it's compatible with WMA, WAV and AAC files -- such as the ones you purchase from iTunes or Amazon. But it won't work with any subscription music services, nor will it work with the old copy-protected iTunes purchases made before 2007.
The built-in clip that sturdily keeps it in place while on a run makes it comparable to the iPod Shuffle, which has a similar design. However, aside from looks and a battery (similar to the Shuffle, the Clip Jam averaged about 20 hours in the CNET Labs battery test), they don't have much in common. The Shuffle has no screen to choose what you want to listen to. The SanDisk Clip Jam, on the other hand, has a low-res screen that lets you tune into an FM radio station or peruse all of your music, podcasts and Audible audiobooks, as well as the contents of the aforementioned microSD card expansion slot.
Unfortunately, without Wi-Fi or streaming music integration, the SanDisk Clip Jam is a victim of the times. More and more people are switching to streaming music services, like Spotify or Apple Music, instead of downloading singles or albums. Without this function, the SanDisk MP3 player feels antiquated. If that's of no concern, or you just want to load a few of your already-downloaded favorite songs for the perfect running playlist, the SanDisk Clip Jam is an affordable, user-friendly alternative to the iPod Shuffle.
Editors' note, June 22, 2016: This review has been updated to add details on the FM radio feature and battery life, as well as details on sound quality.