Back in the day I had got a Frontier Labs Audio player… it was the Nexia predecessor to the nexblack. It really was a pretty good music player. It supported compactflash for storage (no interntal storage.) It used double A batteries and had real buttons. MP3 was the primary audio format – they had promised ogg via a firmware update, but the hardware really just wasn’t up to the task. I used it for several years which is not bad for a $40 or so audio player. Unfortunately it has become flakey in it’s performance sometimes failing to boot up when I switched it on and so when I was given $40 for my birthday I thought it might be time to shop for a replacement.
I’m a very picky shopper in so many ways. I searched and searched and searched. I didn’t want a touch screen music player. Why, they’re so cool? Yes touch screens are cool, but they also take more attention. I can’t reach for the pause button, or next button and switch by feel like I can with a REAL button. “but it’s confusing when there are a lot of buttons….” Please… phones have a lot of buttons and you still manage to use them. Really I wouldn’t mind having programmable buttons on an mp3 player so you could use them to skip between music/audiobooks/podcasts/etc…. that would be nice.
On the whole I like standards. I like things that can take a standard battery, use a standard memory card. Unfortunately there aren’t too many of those around. iPods have their own battery, in fact I found NOTHING this go around that would take a standard battery. Why a standard battery because that means choice and it also means something that I’ll use until it wears out. With a built in battery I throw it out when the battery won’t hold a charge anymore. It’s a waste. I used rechargeable batteries in the old Nexia and sadly it looks like my batteries have outlasted the electronics on it.
Why standard storage? – that’s probably rooted in my use of Linux as my primary operating system. I’m suspicious of so many devices that will only talk to program x or operating system y. That’s another of the things I don’t like about the iPod. They have to check in with apples itunes before they serve their basic purpose. I should say assumed purpose because the assumed purpose is that they’re a music player…. really the basic purpose is to make money for Apple through sales at the itunes store. That’s where the money is for Apple, not in the hardware. So, that’s the price you pay for a good audio player. I don’t think so… what if Honda had home automation software and in order to first drive your Honda automobile you had to plug it into your house once and authorize it through Hondas home automation verification so it could “sync up” and activate. I would hope people would pitch a royal fit over that. But I digress……
Having a removable memory card is nice JUST in case the unit is designed to work with just one operating system or need a driver or a particular version of an operating system. I cringe at devices that instruct you to first install a CD with the driver and then connect your brand new _____ (fill in the blank) electronic gizmo. I like things that CAN work with a computer if you want, but they don’t HAVE to. Computers and operating systems change, that shouldn’t keep your electronics from working. That’s why I like standard storage….
I looked at a lot of audio players and really kept coming back to the new version of what I got for my wife last Christmas. Last Christmas she wanted an audio player and I got a relatively cheaply priced Sansa Clip. I think it had 2 or 4GB of memory and FM radio and for her purposes it was really ideal. I didn’t start looking there because her model only allowed internal memory but as I searched and ran out of other interesting prospects…. I looked at the Sansa and found they had a clip+ as their new version of the Sansa Clip and it did accept a memory card (microSD).
As luck would have it the 8GB version of the Sansa Clip+ shipped for 39.99 to me and I’ve used it quite a bit since I received it. There are a few minor things that I don’t like about it, but overall it has been a fantastic replacement for the old Nexia. First it has real buttons (not backlit like the old Sansa Clip). It would help if they were backlit buttons and I wouldn’t mind at all for the unit to be a bit larger to have a bit more battery capacity to make that happen. I think they traded off the backlit buttons for the microSD card reader. I have added a card as well and loaded that and the internal memory with music, audiobooks, podcasts and a bit more.
One of my frustrations with it is that even if an mp3 is placed in the audiobook folder, but is tagged as something else (blues I think is the default MP3 genre tag)…. the file shows up in the music listing instead of audiobooks. I would think folder choice would trump id3 tag. (Yes I know I can just retag them…. but I haven’t yet.)
I like the way to add a song to the go list and rate songs although I haven’t yet seen the benefit of rating them (more frequent playlist rotation?) I like that there is an option to start audiobooks back where you left off, but using the id3 tag to consider one as music circumvents that and means you HAVE to go back and retag your audiobooks to make sure they observe the same rule.
The earbuds that came with it were surprisingly comfortable. This is coming from someone who a few years ago went on a multiweek quest to find a pair of earbuds that I could tolerate using.
The sound is really very good from the unit. Before purchasing I did a lot of reading and saw spectrum analysis of the devices output and it is by default flat across the board which is fantastic in my opinion. There are eq templates that you can use for different effects. I like the fact that it supports MANY languages as I’ve studied a few langauges and may use this to try a few out.
The USB cable that came with it is ridiculously short. I LOVE that it’s a standard USB to mini connector, I’m glad to see that being accepted as more of a standard. The belt clip is nice although it would be good to see it as replaceable if it cracked. However I suppose their logic is that this is a $40 player and if something breaks it will be pitched in favor of a new one.
The old Sansa Clip has a problem with pitch accuracy from what I read. They say it has been improved with firmware and this one is even better, but is not perfect. I wondered if it would be an issue for me as I only read about this after ordering. In a word it’s been irrelevant to me. I found some comparisons a/b of a 1000 hz tone and really I could discern a slight difference, but not much. The alteration is on the order of playing 1003 hz instead of 1000 hz. I haven’t yet, but many times I’ll cut on the keyboard and practice my relative pitch along with songs…. when I do that will be a real test of how much of a nuisance that difference could be, but at the moment I really doubt it will be an issue. (I’ve had pianos further out of standard tune than that.)
One other little annoyance from this device is that plugging it into the computer automatically puts it in sync mode and disrupts playback. After that it rebuilds it’s index and loses it’s place if you were in the middle of an audiobook. That has frustrated me more than once. I’m glad I have a wall to USB charger as I found that plugging it into a dumb USB port like a wall charger port doesn’t switch modes and JUST charges the device. (Although I’ve never seen this device claim to be fully charged. I left it for overnight and a good part of another day and still saw the charging graphic.) Also, syncing with linux works just fine. I even created playlists to start organizing my huge collection of music. (Plays OGG files too, quite nicely.)
FM reception is really worlds better than the old Nexia. I had at one point talked to their support about sending it back because I couldn’t pick up ANYTHING with the NEXia on FM and we have some pretty strong signals out here even though we’re on the other side of a mountain from town. Well, one day I was walking in town with it and flipped over to FM and found a few weak signals there so… it worked it was just deaf as a post on FM.
The Sansa Clip+ on the other hand does VERY well on FM in comparison. I can pick up quite a few stations even out here at the house. The don’t all come in crystal clear, but they’re there. Recording I haven’t yet fully tested yet. I hope to give a go to that before too long soon. I’ll try to update then and let you know how the recordings sound. From what I can see you can also record from FM onto the memory card with this one.
So, that’s it for now…. I’ll follow up with more if and when I need to, but at this point it seems like a solid low end player and if you want an audio player but don’t want to spend more than $50, the Sansa Clip+ would be a great choice.
I thought I’d post a few more details and references here on the Sansa Clip Plus 8GB. My unit has firmware version V01.01.05A
Firmware updates can be found in the future at this page of support on the clip and clip plus. At this point in time (January 2010) there is not (as far as I know) an update for the clip plus.
Sandisk does have the Sansa Firmware updater here which is designed to check for updates for compatible devices. It is windows only. (No Mac/Linux version). From what I’ve seen though it should be possible to update the firmware manually on the device without the help of the firmware updater.
The forum for the Sansa Clip Plus can be found here.
The manual for the Sansa Clip Plus can be had here (pdf).
I have had one event where I couldn’t get the device to come on. It had frozen up and would not power on with pushing the power button. I had just had it connected via usb to charge and I think it had gone into somewhat of a power saving mode there before I disconnected it. So, what I did was reconnect it to the PC and one tap on the power button which seemed to wake it up. Then I disconnected, powered off and it came back up just fine. It seems to me that a power saving mode when hooked up to the pc might be a bug that can be addressed with a future update.
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