Flash memory and device manufacturer SanDisk clearly has a thorough understanding of the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." We sure are pleased about that, because when the company decided to update its extremely popular Sansa Clip, it could have mangled a perfectly peachy player. Luckily, SanDisk knew a good thing when it saw one and created the Sansa Clip+, a fantastic follow-up that builds upon the great foundation of its predecessor. The player continues to offer an ultracompact design complemented by useful features and solid sound quality--and all at an unbeatable price. The Clip+ is available in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB options for $39.99, $49.99, and $69.99, respectively.
Design on a dime
Or several stacks of dimes, anyway. The SanDisk Sansa Clip+ is very similar to its predecessor in design, which means you still get an ultracompact shape (2.1 inches tall by 1.3 wide by 0.4 inch thick), a light weight (0.9 ounce), and a superhandy built-in belt-clip on the back of the device. That said, there are some notable--though very minor--differences between the physical aspects of the Clip+ and its predecessor. First, the player's control pad is square rather than circular, though it is the same five-way configuration, with play/pause, track FF/RW, and a contextual menu button surrounding a center select key. Also, the dedicated volume rocker has moved from the right edge to the left (under the standard mini-USB port) in order to make room for a MicroSD card slot. And SanDisk has eliminated the hold-and-power switch, electing instead to add a power button to the top of the player and integrate hold functionality into the home key on the front.
Perhaps the most obvious change to the Clip+ is the overall body design, although this, too, is relatively slight. The player is less blocky, with a slightly curved brushed black plastic back plate that wraps slightly around the edges of the front. The colors--black, red, and blue at release--are relegated to just the face of the device. The overall effect is that the Clip+ feels like it has a higher quality build than its predecessor, and we welcome the improvement.
Those who are familiar with the Clip will be glad to know that the interface of the Clip+ is nearly identical, with a small menu addition to accommodate the MicroSD card slot. As you can use SlotMusic and SlotRadio cards as well as cards formatted with your own music, SanDisk has thoughtfully created a separate menu option for SlotRadio that allows you to access that content directly. The main menu also includes selections for music, FM radio, voice, and settings. Diving into the music submenu will let you navigate by artist, album, genre, and playlist as well as a folder-tree option. This is also where you'll find dedicated sections for podcasts and audiobooks. All in all, it's very simple and easy to navigate. The only issue: the display is quite small (1 inch diagonally) and thus the tiny, monochrome text may be difficult to read if you don't have perfect vision.
Tiny package, big features
For such a small player, the Sansa Clip+ has an impressive array of features--even more than its predecessor, which already had plenty. The major omissions include wireless capability and support for photo and video, but in a device this size and for such a budget-friendly price, these features are not only unnecessary, but would probably cripple the overall functionality. What you do get is playback of a wide array of audio formats, including MP3, secure WMA (subscription music), WAV, FLAC, OGG, and Audible. We are a touch disappointed that SanDisk omitted AAC, but that is something that could potentially be added via a firmware updated. There's also a built-in mic for voice recording and an FM tuner with an autoscan mode and 40 preset slots.
Of course, those are all features you can find in the first-generation Clip. The big news with the Clip+ is the addition of a MicroSD card slot, which is capable of accepting SDHC cards, currently available at up to 16GB. At press time, a 16GB card was about $40, which means you could conceivably get yourself a 24GB flash player for around $110. That's an absolutely incredible deal. Better yet, the Clip+ will integrate content on the card with your onboard music library, so you don't have to access the two separately. The exception is when you use SlotRadio or SlotMusic cards, which are segregated from your library since they are both organized in a very particular way already.
Somewhat surprisingly--especially since there is absolutely no mention of it on the packaging or spec sheet--the Clip+ also includes Rhapsody DNA. This not only creates a symbiotic relationship between the player and service, it also allows you to transfer dynamically updated radio stations, called Channels, from Rhapsody. You can then set them to automatically update each time you connect the device.
The SanDisk Sansa Clip+ has changed little in matters of performance, which is good and bad. We have to admit we're a bit disappointed that the rated battery life is still just 15 hours. It's certainly understandable for a device of this size, and it's an adequate rating, but it would have been nice to see it jacked up a bit. Still, we may beat this rating in our own battery drains, so stay tuned for CNET Labs test results.
The good news is that the Clip+ features the same audio chip found in the Clip, meaning it offers a signal-to-noise ratio of 92dB. In layman's terms, that means this player is capable of providing great sound quality--if you swap out the included cheapo earbuds for something decent, that is. We used the Shure SE310s for the majority of testing and found the Clip+ to be comparable to its predecessor. Music sounds clear and balanced, with plenty of high-end detail and a nice, warm midrange. Bass response is decent, with no distortion, though we think it could use some more oomph. As such, we think that hip-hop and electronica don't shine as much on this player as on something like the Sony S-Series Walkman, but on the whole, all genres perform well, and those with an eclectic taste in music should be satisfied. Also, we're happy to report that the FM radio reception of the Clip+ is better than that of the Clip, which suffered a bit in that area.
When it boils down to it, we can't really think of any reason not to buy the Sansa Clip+. Though only an evolutionary step in the progress of the line, it represents an obvious improvement over the previous generation model, and this player is surely at the top of the heap when it comes to budget-friendly options. It may not have the advanced features found on the majority of MP3 players nowadays, but it doesn't need them. It offers a solid design, useful features, and good music playback; what more could you ask for at this price?