My disdain for the latest iPod shuffle is no secret. The Shuffle is a perfect example of Apple's obsession with form over function: a conscious decision to sacrifice useful and what some might classify as essential features in the name of producing the world's smallest portable audio player. Of course, mini MP3 players passed the point of diminishing returns on the miniaturization front a long, long time ago. In exchange for an arbitrarily tiny body, the shuffle makes you give up a screen, which is sort of a useful feature if you want to navigate a music library, manage playlists, or even find out what song's playing without having to resort to a Dr. Sbaitso-style VoiceOver dictation through your headphones. Oh, and those headphones just happen to have a propensity to crank up the volume when exposed to sweat. One more strike against an MP3 player whose one saving grace could have been its workout worthiness.
The iPod shuffle's biggest problem isn't the device itself, though; it's the competition, namely SanDisk's excellent Sansa Clip. I've been using a Clip regularly for the better part of two years now, and it's simply fantastic. The Clip is more than small enough to be a workout companion, and it costs a fraction of the price you'll pay for a Shuffle. Yet the Clip offers great battery life, a useful display, and the ability to withstand long, sweaty runs in the heat of summer and the cold, miserable monsoons that make up Vancouver's winters.
Really, I couldn't be happier with the Sansa Clip as my secondary, flash-based MP3 player. Or could I?
Not too long ago, SanDisk updated the Clip with a new model, appropriately dubbed the Clip+. This latest revision borrows heavily from the original, down to its inexpensive asking price. A 2GB Clip+ costs less than $40 online, while 4GB versions sell for around $45, and 8GB models run only $60
Basically, you're looking at twice the capacity of an iPod shuffle for less money. The Clip+ is larger than the tiniest iPod, of course, but at 2.16" x 1.36" x 0.6", it's still incredibly small. The Clip+ tips the scales at less than an ounce, which essentially feels weightless when placed in a pocket.
This latest Clip's casing is a mix of matte and glossy plastics. SanDisk just couldn't resist a glossy faceplate, which unfortunately picks up fingerprints and smudges with ease. I suppose the matte finish doesn't look as enticing on store shelves or in product photography, but it really is a more durable surface for a device that's handled constantly.
Speaking of durability, the Clip+ seems to be every bit as sturdy as the original that's lasted me roughly two years now. However, unlike the first Clip, this new model isn't available in obnoxiously hot pink. You'll have to make do with black, blue, and red variants of the 4GB model, and black only for the 2GB and 8GB flavors.
Not that you'll be looking at the casing's finish, though. Your gaze will most likely be focused on the Clip's defining feature: a brilliant two-color OLED display. The 1" screen may be tiny, but it can clearly display up to four lines of text, even with the brightness turned all the way down. SanDisk equips the Clip+ with the same simple but intuitive interface that graced the original. Although not much to look at, the UI gets the job done. Menu responses are snappy and responsive, allowing quick navigation using the directional pad and other buttons.
The Clip+'s face also features basic menu navigation and playback controls, just like its predecessor. This time around, the device can be locked by holding down the home button rather than manipulating a slider on its left edge. SanDisk has also done away with the slider-based power switch, which has been replaced by a single button.
I've heard a few folks talk about how easy the shuffle's headphone-based playback controls are to access, but that argument's always fallen a little flat with me. Perhaps that's because when running or at the gym, I actually find my hands closer to where I have the Clip, er, clippedI generally route headphone cabling under my shirt or down my back to keep the dangling wires from getting in the way. Even when running at a full speed, I can easily reach down and adjust the Clip's volume or skip tracks in seconds, all without looking.