Editors' note: The rating of this product has increased to reflect significant enhancements offered by a firmware update. Find out more information here.
SanDisk continues to add to its line of Sansa MP3 players, which has been attractive to consumers from the start thanks to the low price point at which the company can list its players. While cheap pricing has made SanDisk a real contender in the portable audio space, the company is not content to rest on that fact alone to draw new customers, persistently tweaking its new offerings in an attempt to make them better. Such is the case with the Sansa Fuze, a slim device with a high-quality feel and several shiny color options. Sure, it's a bit of a Nano clone, but it also sounds good, offers plentiful features, and is cheap as all get-out--just $80, $100, and $130 for the 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB models, respectively.
SanDisk thought up the perfect name for the Fuze, because the player really resembles a Sansa Clip and a Sansa View blended together. At 3.1 inches by 1.8 inches by 0.3 inch, the Fuze is only a bit bigger than the Clip overall, and it comes in the same color options: black (2GB, 4GB); blue, pink, and red (all 4GB); and silver (8GB). But the build is more like that of the View, with a clickable scroll wheel, a shiny, plastic face and smooth, metal backside--the Fuze definitely has a solid, weighty feel to it. It seems more durable and high-quality than early Sansa models.
This observation in quality unfortunately does not extend to the Fuze's interface. The icon-driven main menu is nice enough to look at, and the device is very easy to navigate, with music organized into playlist, artist, album, and so on. And yet, as with other Sansa models we've come across, the inner menus are dull, and while we appreciate the option to at least change the wallpaper color, we'd love to be able to set a favorite photo as a backdrop or otherwise tweak the look-and-feel to our personal preferences. Still, this is a minor gripe, and part of the problem is actually caused by the screen's protective coating, which casts a grainy shadow on the LCD.
This dulling shadow also affects photos and videos, slightly diminishing the overall quality of viewing. At 1.9 inches, the Fuze's screen isn't exactly optimal video viewing anyway, so this isn't too big of a deal. If you still choose to add this type of media to the player, make sure it is in JPEG or MPEG4 SP format to ensure hassle-free playback. On the audio side, the Fuze offers support for MP3, WMA, secure WMA, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, WAV, Audible, and Overdrive. The player operates on the Rhapsody DNA platform, so it supports not only subscription content from the service, but also Rhapsody Channels, which are essentially Internet radio on the go. If you hear a song that you like playing on a channel, pressing down on the scroll wheel brings up the contextual menu where you can rate it and/or add it to your library.
The Fuze offers a few other attributes of note, most of which add value to the player. The only one that does not is the proprietary syncing port built into the bottom of the device--we'd much prefer it if SanDisk stuck to mini USB. On either side of the Fuze, you'll find a power/hold switch and a microSD card slot for adding more memory. It accepts high-capacity cards, which are available at up to 12GB as of press time. If that still doesn't provide enough music for you, there's an FM tuner with autoscan and presets, or you can record your own beautiful voice via the built-in mic.
Let's be frank: the Sansa Fuze doesn't offer the sparklingly stellar audio quality presented by the likes of the Sony NWZ-A810 or the Samsung P2. It also wasn't quite as encompassing as the sound coming from the Creative Zen V Plus--but it comes close. The Fuze is no slouch, to be sure. We tested it out with the Shure E310 earphones and the Creative Aurvana Live headphones and were not disappointed in either case. The Fuze powered through with reasonable--though not super thumping--bass response; nice, rich mids with smooth vocals; and an impressive amount of high-end detail. Across genres, we were greeted with clear, solid sound. The battery life of 28.2 hours for audio and 6.5 hours for video is plenty impressive.