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SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ MP3 review: SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ MP3

SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ MP3

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Donald Bell
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Donald Bell

Senior Editor / How To

Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.

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5 min read

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8.0

SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ MP3

The Good

The Sansa Fuze+ comes in a variety of colors and capacities, at superaffordable prices. Features such as video playback, AAC compatibility, FM radio, photos, podcasts, Rhapsody support, voice recording, and Mac compatibility make it an easy iPod alternative to recommend.

The Bad

The new touch-pad navigation is sluggish; screen resolution isn't great; audio quality is just average; and the all-plastic design feels cheap.

The Bottom Line

You can find smaller or cheaper MP3 players, but you won't find a better value than the Sansa Fuze+ in terms of dollars per features.

iPods aren't for everybody. The ones with all the cool features will set you back at least $150, and the ones you can afford don't do much. If you want to spend less than $100 for a portable media player that can handle music, photos, videos, FM radio, podcasts, and voice memos, your best bet is the SanDisk Sansa Fuze+.

Available in five colors (red, blue, white, black, and purple), the Fuze+ is available in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB capacities, priced to fly off the shelves at $79, $89, and $119. It should be noted, though, that the 16GB model is available only in black, and the white version (which reminds us of a "Star Wars" Stormtrooper) is available only in an 8GB capacity.

Design
Compared with the original Sansa Fuze from 2008, the Fuze+ is a bit longer and thicker, but benefits from a larger 2.4-inch screen, simplified user interface, and a universal Micro-USB connection that replaces the proprietary dock. It measures 2 inches wide by 3.75 inches tall by around a third of an inch thick, which we'd typically call out as being chunky, if the thing weren't so unfathomably lightweight.

Around the edges of the player you'll find a convenient volume rocker switch on the left, a power button up top, a Micro-USB port on the right, and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. The back has a smooth, river pebble feel to it that fits naturally in your hand or pocket.

Flipping through the main menu using the capacitive touch-strip navigation pad (good-bye click wheel), you'll find options for music, video, photo, radio, podcast, voice recording, MicroSD card, and settings. The graphic interface is a far cry from the Windows 98-esque rotation of icons used on prior Sansa players, and borrows heavily from the Zune's "twist" philosophy of using horizontal swipes to switch between functions and vertical swipes to flip through content within each silo.

Overall, the new user interface works well and the logic behind the navigation makes more sense than ever before. That said, side-by-side with the original Fuze, it takes longer to work your way through menus with the new "film strip" touch navigation than it did with the previous scroll-wheel design, and pausing playback can no longer be accomplished by feel alone. Also, the main menu doesn't loop back on itself anymore when you reach the last item, forcing you to swipe your way back through seven menu icons to reach the music player again. It's a process that wouldn't be quite as tedious if the touch control were more responsive, but as it stands, your fingers can easily outpace the reaction speed of the controls. It's certainly not a deal breaker, but it is one advantage that higher-priced devices, such as the iPod Nano and flash-based Zunes, have over the Sansa Fuze+.

Features
All of the features SanDisk got right with the first generation of the Fuze are still here--only they're better. The audio player is one of the most flexible money can buy, with support for MP3, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, WAV, Audible, protected WMA (Rhapsody, Napster), SlotRadio content, and finally, AAC. One of our nagging complaints about the original Fuze was the lack of AAC compatibility, which is the format of choice for the nation's largest online music retailer (iTunes). Now that the company has remedied the gap in support, there's nothing stopping users from dragging their unprotected music files straight out of iTunes and onto the Fuze+--which is a big deal for any iPod expats.

The Fuze is now broadly compatible between Mac and PC, thanks to a flexible USB connection mode that can automatically switch between MTP and a generic MSC connection standard. It's a small thing, but it's still one less hurdle for anyone looking for an inexpensive iPod alternative.

On the video front, you can sync most standard definition content in an h.264, WMV, or MPEG-4 format. A free Sansa Media Converter application is included (also downloadable) that makes quick work of converting the majority of other common video formats, specifically including Flip camcorder footage.

Features such as photos, FM radio, and voice recording work just as you'd expect and we have no complaints, especially at this price. The radio doesn't offer the same "live pause" capability as the Apple iPod Nano, however, it does allow you to create recordings off the radio on the fly, and displays station call letters and other RBDS info. Recordings made either from the radio or the integrated voice recorder are stored as uncompressed WAV files, which can be easily transferred off the device and played on any computer.

Another noteworthy feature that SanDisk continues to support is memory card expansion. Granted, as one of the world's leading manufacturers of memory cards, it would be insane for SanDisk not to support memory cards. To this end, SanDisk doesn't skimp on memory support, allowing up to 32GB of extra MicroSDHC memory to be shoved into the side of the device for people looking to store as much music as possible. The feature is also compatible with SanDisks' own line of SlotRadio music cards, which offer a pre-loaded selection of music based around certain genres or themes (Billboard Hits, Classical, Workout Mix, etc.).

The Fuze+ features a dedicated main menu heading for podcasts, which is a great nod to podcasts fans like us. Of course, to download and sync podcast content, you'll need to use the Fuze+ with podcast-friendly software, like Songbird or Winamp, or even iTunes if you're comfortable with dragging and dropping content manually.

Performance
There are plenty of good reasons to buy a Sansa Fuze+ over an iPod, but audio quality is not one of them. Like any iPod, the Fuze+ includes a lengthy list of EQ presets to massage the sound, as well as a custom five-band graphic EQ--but nothing really worked to coax out a better-than-average sound. The included earbuds come with foam covers on them as a measure of comfort, but they offer no sonic improvement over Apple's ubiquitous white 'buds.

That said, the fact that the Fuze+ is sonically on par with the iPod Nano, and available at half the price, is no small feat. But if audio quality is of paramount importance, you're better off looking at players from Sony, Samsung, or Cowon.

Video quality on the Fuze+ is impressive. The screen's 320x240-pixel resolution isn't worthy of taking in a feature-length film, but the pixel density looks tight and crisp, image quality is smooth, and colors pop for both photos and videos. Our review unit had a pretty nasty viewing angle when held in landscape view and tilted towards the right, but if that's the only complaint we can make of the experience, we think the Fuze+ still comes out ahead.

SanDisk rates the battery life of the Fuze+ at 24 hours of audio and 5 hours of video, which is above average for the price. We'll update this review with battery results from CNET Labs once testing is complete.

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8.0

SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ MP3

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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