A quick look at SanDisk’s Sansa Clip MP3 player

Always obsessed with finding the right tool for the job, I’ve long run not one, but two MP3 players. The first—currently an 80GB iPod—is responsible for storing my vast MP3 archive of almost 450 albums ripped with the most anal quality settings possible. Being able to carry around this extensive library of tunes is fantastically convenient, making the iPod perfect for toting around town and even better for traveling. I’ll even take the iPod skiing, which isn’t terribly jarring, and it does just fine at the gym as long as I’m lifting weights and not otherwise bouncing the fragile hard drive around. But if I’m running or navigating one of my bikes down technical singletrack littered with roots, rocks, and other bits of bone-jarring nature, I tend to shy away from anything with a spinning hard drive.

This is where my secondary MP3 player comes in. Here, I’m looking for something small, lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and with flash storage that won’t mind being rattled around. Capacity doesn’t matter much, since if I’m riding my bike or out running, I only need the loud, energetic, thrashy subset of my MP3 archive that makes me go faster.


For the last while, a Creative Zen Nano has filled in as my flash-based MP3 player, and it’s largely been good. However, a couple of years of mud, dust, rain, and sweat finally took its toll on the Nano, leaving me searching for a new flash-based player to abuse during my workouts. Since I’ve been reasonably happy with my iPod, I thought it would be only fair to consider the latest shuffle. That is until I saw the price. $79 for a 1GB player that doesn’t have a screen? Surely you jest.

It didn’t take me long to find something better in the form of SanDisk’s Sansa Clip. Like the shuffle, it’s tiny and has an integrated clip. More importantly, it costs $20 less, yet packs twice the capacity and a gorgeous OLED display. And I’m just getting started.

Shuffle who?

The iPod shuffle’s claim to fame is its diminutive size, and the Clip doesn’t really challenge it there. Sure, the Clip is small, measuring just 55 x 34 x 17 mm. But that’s still close to three times the volume of the diminutive shuffle, which measures a scant 41 x 27 x 10 mm.

The Clip is about the same size as a Phenom CPU

In the real world, the difference in size is at best academic. Both are extremely small, and while the Clip is technically the larger of the two, diminishing returns kick in long before the Clip’s proportions put it at any real disadvantage. In fact, for my large, Neanderthal hands, the Clip actually feels a little too small, as if I’m cupping it rather than actually holding it.

As one might expect, the Clip doesn’t weigh much, either—just 26 grams. That’s 10 grams more than the shuffle, to be fair, but both are so featherweight that the difference between them is largely moot.

One of the things the Clip gains thanks to its additional volume and weight is a fancy OLED display. The screen only displays two colors—light blue and yellow—but that’s all you need to navigate the player’s excellent user interface. Sharp contrast makes the screen easy to read in nearly all light conditions, and the display is so brilliant that I don’t need the brightness cranked above around 20% most of the time.

The presence of a screen might not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve got a player with 2GB of capacity, it’s nice to be able to easily select individual tracks or albums for playback. Building playlists on the go is easy, too. The piece de resistance, however, is the ability to switch the display to a full-screen spectrum analyzer, giving the Clip a measure of basic visualization effects.

Navigating the Clip’s interface is a simple affair thanks to a collection of buttons on the face of the unit. You get a virtual directional pad with a select button in the middle and a home button that rolls back to the main menu.

Around the left-hand side we find a slider that controls the Clip’s power and hold state. Sliding the switch up turns the unit on or off, while sliding it down locks the Clip into hold mode. This is the only area where the Clip’s build quality is suspect. The slider fits a little loose, and even though it has less than a millimeter of actual play, that’s enough to generate a faint plastic-on-plastic rattling if you shake the player. It’s hardly a dealbreaker, but something that was noticeable given the device’s otherwise solid construction.

From here we can also see a standard mini-USB plug used to connect the Clip to a host PC. SanDisk ships the player with a short USB cable for connectivity, but additional software isn’t required to transfer songs. Tracks can easily be moved over to the Clip in Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player and Winamp are also supported.

Moving to the right, we find the Clip’s volume buttons and its headphone output jack. The device comes with a set of cheap headphones, and like those bundled with most MP3 players, they’re not particularly good. To SanDisk’s credit, though, the Clip’s headphones are more comfortable than the awful plastic earbuds Apple bundles with its iPods.

On the playback front, the Clip can deal with MP3, WAV, and WMA audio—sorry, no Ogg or FLAC. Voice recording is also supported, as is recording from the device’s FM radio. The radio’s a nice little perk to have, although reception quality tends to be either excellent or awful, depending on where you are.

Fortunately, music playback quality is excellent. Even when plugged into a decent set of stereo speakers, the Clip doesn’t exhibit any obvious playback flaws. If it’s pristine playback you’re after, the Clip’s only real limitation is its lack of support for lossless formats other than WAV.

Although it’s hardly the device’s defining feature, the Clip predictably features, well, a clip. Located on the back, the clip makes it easy to secure the player to straps or clothing, so you don’t need to bother spending extra on a case.


SanDisk claims the Clip offers 15 hours of battery life, and after several weeks of use, I’d say that estimate is pretty accurate. Charging only takes a few hours, as well.


By now you’ve no doubt noticed that my Clip is a rather obnoxious shade of pink. I’m not sure why, but I’m a sucker for pink gadgets—but only hot magenta pink, not Hello Kitty pastels. If your tastes are a little more, well, normal, the Clip can also be had in black, red, and blue. A new 4GB model also just became available in silver.

Conclusions

With a street price of just $60 for the 2GB model, the Sansa Clip is one of most affordable MP3 players on the market. It’s also one of the best. SanDisk has struck an almost perfect balance, managing to keep costs down while packing plenty of capacity, a useful screen and easy-to-navigate interface, plenty of battery life, and great sound quality into such a tiny form factor. That you don’t have to jump through unnecessary software hoops to get music onto the Clip is just icing on the cake.


What the Sansa Clip is, then, is an honest-to-goodness iPod killer. Sure it only trumps the shuffle—by far the most anemic and overpriced member of the iPod lineup—but it’s an iPod killer nonetheless, and a ruthlessly efficient one at that.

Comments closed
    • zockt
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve had some problematic Sansa devices before, could any Clip owners comment on these isssues:

    1. Is the blue backlight in the circular control pnale appropriately visible or blindingly bright?

    2. Is the volume rocker switch sturdy? These things break easily on their older models. Does it have clicky action like a real switch? 🙂

    3. How is the volume range? I had to adjust the gain on all MP3s by -10dB because the range of ‘soft’ volumes is very limited on the e240, in other words the volume goes from off-normal-loud-extremely loud with not much of a range between ‘off’ and ‘normal’.

    The problem was that it made the FM radio very loud as you can’t fine-tune the adjustment like you can with MP3s.

    • Delphis
    • 12 years ago

    Darn it … still no OGG support. Otherwise I’d want 2. One for each car.

    • FireGryphon
    • 12 years ago

    Rockin’ the metallic hot pink; that takes some guts. If it’s not too much trouble, couldja post some FM recordings? I’m curious what kind of quality you can get from that. I’m also a bit curious if you could hack apart the case and attach a bigger FM antenna, but I doubt you’re up to that with you precious pink ‘P3 player.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist the consonance =)

      • flybywire
      • 12 years ago

      I’ve been told that real men wear pink.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        That largely depends on the specific year and night club we’d be talking about.

    • ludi
    • 12 years ago

    As an alternative, Insignia (BestBuy) offers a 1GB and 2GB miniature MP3 player that’s slightly thinner and only a hair longer, also has an OLED display, supports drag-and-drop in Explorer and .M3U playlists from WinAmp, and regularly turns up on eBay for about $25 shipped (for the 1GB model) and $35-40 shipped (for the 2GB model).

    It comes only in Model T Black, but my manhood says that’s just fine.

    • Tarx
    • 12 years ago

    “For the last while, a Creative Zen Nano has filled in as my flash-based MP3 player, and it’s largely been good. ”
    That’s what I’m still using. It has most of the advantages noted above… except for the clip! (plus also has direct ripping from any audio source to MP3s by just plugging into the headphone jack of that audio source). It does use an AAA battery (that lasts for a very long time) – of course using that battery size defines the height and thickness of the player (with the width about 3x that of the battery).
    Shuffle is very pricey for what little it offers.

    • danazar
    • 12 years ago

    Does it have the same problem the Sansa Express has, where the “shuffle” feature doesn’t shuffle? Mine just seems to generate a new ‘random’ order for playback that it’ll stick to over and over again until you edit the playlist, and then it generates a new list that it sticks to. So it’s not really shuffling at all.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    Btw that back-lit blue circle light looks really spiffy.

    • indeego
    • 12 years ago

    r{http://pegcitygamers.blogspot.com/2007/11/understanding-ownership-bias.html<]§

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      It’s not a review. It’s a blog post.

      • davidedney123
      • 12 years ago

      I can see your point, but as the other post says this is a blog post not a review and also I think we can trust Geoff to rise well above the level of the kiddy reviews of stuff they’ve already bought. If he bought it and it was crap I am 100% sure he’d tell us so.

      Dave

        • indeego
        • 12 years ago

        Ah that is right. This is the site that has a switch for when they are reviewing products and when they are blogging products.

        When /[

          • TO11MTM
          • 12 years ago

          Not to play Devils advocate, but didn’t they blast that DVI Switch that was garbage?

          • UberGerbil
          • 12 years ago

          Well, somehow the rest of us managed to figure it out.

          • Flying Fox
          • 12 years ago

          Learn to watch for that banner picture with the words “A blog by X”.

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      I disagree. You’ve never disliked a product you own?

        • eitje
        • 12 years ago

        indeego never makes mistakes!

    • MadManOriginal
    • 12 years ago

    I just read about the 4GB version recently. The Clip has been praised compared to past Sansa players for the general sound quality as well. For $80 it seems like a great little piece for ultra-portable playback, now only if a company would come out with something comparable in form and price that does ogg playback. With small capactiy flash players having the advantage of better-SQ ogg playback is a definite advantage. Rockbox maybe? 🙂 I know one company semi-actively encourages Rockbox development, is it Sansa or another?

    • crazybus
    • 12 years ago

    I bought one of these for my little sister for Christmas. Well actually the 1GB version. Seems pretty decent, especially for the price, although I would have liked to see AAC support on it.

      • Taddeusz
      • 12 years ago

      Yea, I don’t know why more players don’t come with AAC support. It’s not like it’s any more proprietary than MP3. And they sound much better at the same bitrate than MP3. Any player should at least be able to play unprotected AAC files.

    • UberGerbil
    • 12 years ago

    Refurbished 1GB Shuffles are available for $39 at apple.com. I got one for my mother for her trips to the gym. She can handle a couple of buttons, but a UI would just confuse her — playing a set of songs in order (and pausing when necessary) is fine. I don’t think she’s ever even used iTunes to change the songs, and is still listening to whatever I helped her load on there when she got it.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to go anywhere near iTunes — or any 3rd party organizer software, actually. I just want to drag and drop MP3s (and the occasional WMA). And an FM radio is a huge plus (AM would be nice too). So I’ve been looking at the Clip. I’m impressed you can get 15 hours out of it considering the displayless shuffle only gets around 12 (albeit from a smaller battery).

    So I think you have convinced me to get one.

    Just not in hot pink.

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 12 years ago

      May I dissuade you or at least get you to take a look at the iRiver Clix?

    • etilena
    • 12 years ago

    mini usb port ftw. i like my ipod but dislike the need for a separate cable as most of my other devices run through mini usb. the ability to add songs without needing to install itunes is great as well.

    • CampinCarl
    • 12 years ago

    I wish Sansa would make a 40+ gig mp3/mpeg player…I’m in the market for something to replace my Zen Touch which is on the verge of kicking it, and I’d prefer to not buy a Zune or Ipud.

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      They don’t make HDD based players since that’s not their thing.

      However, the Sansa View 32GB player is coming.

      • Ricardo Dawkins
      • 12 years ago

      Sandisk Sansa View 32 GB + 8 or 16GB SDHC card on its slot.

        • CampinCarl
        • 12 years ago

        That seems like an attractive option, but considering that the 16GB version is already $175, I can easily forsee the 32GB version being $250. Adding in a 16 gig SDHC card, and you’re talking nearly $350. For that price, I can nearly afford a Creative Zen Vision W 60GB.

    • Spotpuff
    • 12 years ago

    I also enjoy Sandisk players if only because they support drag & drop functionality. I know 90% of users love installing iTunes and using it for ALL their media (*shudder*) but I don’t, so it’s nice.

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      Missed something in the article?

      g[

        • tu2thepoo
        • 12 years ago

        might want to read his comment again, champ:

        I also enjoy Sandisk players l[

          • MadManOriginal
          • 12 years ago

          ‘if only because’ there means that if there’s one reason he enjoys them it’s because of the drag-n-drop. The rest of comment #5 clearly indicates he doesn’t enjoy proprietary software. I don’t like it either but am almost feeling that rather than going with a small-brand flash with ogg support I might get a large HD-based player and encode at 256kb MP3. If only there were some competitively-priced non-proprietary software HD players.

            • tu2thepoo
            • 12 years ago

            so… what exactly are we disagreeing about?

          • Flying Fox
          • 12 years ago

          LOL, was too tired to read properly. 😳

          Sorry.

          Some of the Sandisk players are a little difficult to set between MTP vs MSC modes though (most notably they do MTP by default and not everyone likes WMP). But then again at least it has that option.

    • Zyphos
    • 12 years ago

    If only it came with a standard replaceable battery or had known documentation on how to replace it if it fails, which it will some day.

    I love my m240. They do know how to make a good MP3 player.

      • videobits
      • 12 years ago

      OK, but unless the battery is defective, it will probably go 3 years with no problems.
      And if there was one to buy off the shelf, it would be $15-20 range probably. And you’d look around and see players with 4 to 8 times the capacity and $50 or less price tag. Are you really going to repair that old one?

      I got my 1GB version for $35. I figure I’ll lose it or smash it up doing doing something outside long before the battery is an issue. If this were a $100 plus item, yeah I’d care about the battery.

        • Bill Clo
        • 12 years ago

        But there are folk out there who 1) keep their devices long after they become “obselete”, and 2) really hate sending a unit back to the factory for a new battery when it should be an easy replacement by the user…

        • Zyphos
        • 12 years ago

        No, technically it’s not a huge drawback. But, money doesn’t grow on trees no matter what the cost.

        If somehow this MP3 player were only $10 to replace, I could justify replacing it. Since it’s not, it seems silly to have to go spend more money on: A) The same device again, potentially off of ebay or an auction site, since it will likely be passed it’s life expectancy or B) A new device, when all that is wrong is a dead battery.

        Besides, I despise expensive “disposable” consumer items. I can appreciate company C wanting to continue to make money, but don’t plan obsolescence for a device that may still work fine. One primary reason I don’t buy an iPod. They planned for you to have to pay to replace the battery by shipping it back. Meh.

        Just my opinion.

    • Justice
    • 12 years ago

    My daughter has the exact model you picture above. It’s freaking fantastic. Integrates perfectly with WMP11, no drivers needed. Although I don’t see it mentioned in your posting, (Maybe she does have a different model) but hers has a built in FM tuner in hers, and it even will record the songs broad casted!

    This unit is definitely a “Shuffle” killer.

    • paulWTAMU
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve long liked the Sansa MP3 players; good to see them getting some love 🙂

    • Flying Fox
    • 12 years ago

    I don’t think I have ever since these player pictured side-by-side with CPUs for a size comparison, and that’s a Phenom too. Yay!

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