Real Reviews: The Best Mid-Priced MP3 Player

So, this review is not meant to be any sort of comparison of all MP3 players or “don’t buy iPod” rant. I don’t own an iPod. I know that those who have an iPod love it. And discussions of this topic very quickly turn into holy wars about which is the best mp3 player of all time.

That’s not the intent of this article. In fact, this article doesn’t even consider the iPod. This is for several reasons, but foremost is that they were out of my price range. So, when I was shopping for mp3 players, the iPod was not considered.

Criteria

As I mentioned, the iPod was too expensive. Which ties to one of my first criteria when looking for a new mp3 player: price. Here are the criteria I used when looking:

  1. Affordable, without being “cheap” - My price range was generally under $100.
  2. Feature set - I was looking for the following features
    • Supported music formats
    • Supported video formats
    • Adequate storage space 4-16 Gigs
    • No special software required. I don’t want to be forced to use their stuff.

Brand - not a completely unknown and unreturnable brand Returnable - if it’s terrible or doesn’t work. Popularity - has decent ratings on Amazon

I looked at a lot of different models, went to a couple of stores to look at them, and even bought a Sony Walkman that I promptly returned because they took functionality away since a previous version.

I ended up deciding to get the Sansa Fuze 8Gig player. The price was right for the amount of storage, it played mp3s, as well as several other audio formats, it supported several video formats, it could display pictures, and it had a built-in FM radio, to boot! For all of that functionality, the price was comparable to other players that did much less.

I have been very happy with my choice.

Music

Of course, the Sansa Fuze plays mp3s. But it also supports several other audio formats: WAV, WMA, secure WMA, FLAC, Ogg-Vorbis, and audiobooks. You can create playlists, and the music you load on is automatically organized by genre, artist, album, or all songs. You can also browse the audio files, which is helpful if your mp3s haven’t been tagged yet.


One of the mp3 players I returned before getting the Fuze was made by Sony. I returned it because it wouldn’t remember its place when shuffling an entire genre. So, if I started shuffling all songs in a genre, I would listen to, say, 10 songs before I turned it off. The next time I turned it on, it would continue playing songs from that genre, but it wouldn’t remember what had already been played. So, 4 songs in, I’d hear one that I heard the last time, even though there were 100 songs in the genre overall. What it should do is shuffle every song in the genre, or whatever category I’m playing, with no repeats, regardless of how many times I turn if off in between.

The Sansa Fuze will not repeat songs in whatever list is being played until they have all been played. Instead of randomly shuffling from scratch after it turns back on, it starts right from where it left off, as if going through a playlist that has been shuffled.

Most modern mp3 players show album art, but some of the less expensive ones don’t, or they don’t have a color screen for showing it (like “stick” players). The Sansa Fuze does show album art, which is nice to see when listening to a variety of songs.

SanDisk Sansa Fuze 8 GB Video MP3 Player (Black)
SanDisk Sansa Fuze 8 GB Video MP3 Player (Black)

This is the Sansa Fuze I ended up buying, in black.

 
SanDisk Sansa Fuze 4 GB Video MP3 Player (Black)
SanDisk Sansa Fuze 4 GB Video MP3 Player (Black)

I almost got this one, which would have saved me $15 or $20, but I didn't want to risk being limited by space.

 

Video

Even thought the main reason I bought an mp3 player was to play music, it’s still nice to be able to play movies on it too. There are lots of potential reasons for wanting video on a small device like this. Maybe you want to travel light on a long trip. Maybe you want to have short videos of the kids handy while your out and about with your music player. Whatever the reason, it’s a nice thing to have.

The Sansa Fuze supports MPEG4 video. It’s only one format, but it doesn’t matter, because it comes with media converter software that will convert several other formats for playback on the Fuze.

At first, I wasn’t comfortable with this whole idea. I wanted to be able to put whatever video file I wanted on there, as-is, and play it. But, eventually, it occurred to me that no video I have, or will ever have, is meant to be watched on a tiny 2-inch screen! While the media converter software converts video formats, it also creates a video that is the correct size for the Fuze. This means much smaller video files, which means that a video won’t take up nearly as much space, leaving room for more of everything else!

Photos

Just like videos, it’s a nice feature to have, especially if you want to have a set of pictures on you at all times. One neat little feature that goes along with just displaying the photos, is that you can play a slideshow that’s accompanied by the music on your player!

Again, the Sansa Media Converter software can be used to convert a number of different formats for loading onto the Sansa Fuze. The resulting image files are smaller, and they will be the right size for the screen.

Expandable with SD card

One of the dilemmas I had when choosing which mp3 player to buy was how much storage to get. Would 4 or 8 Gigabytes be enough? Should I move up to the next level and get 16 Gigs? Do I really have that much music? Doesn’t that bring me out of my price range?

Well, the Sansa Fuze has an SD card slot, which allows you to expand the built-in storage. So, if you get the 8 Gig, like I did, and it turns out to not be enough, then you can augment it with a micro-SD.

FM Radio Tuner

Interestingly enough, at the time I was looking at buying this player, the FM radio in my car was broken. So, this was a big selling point for me. But despite that, I knew my car radio wouldn’t be broken forever, and I thought this was a great thing to have on a small media device. Why should I limit myself to music that’s in my library? Sometimes I actually LIKE to listen to the radio! What if the game is on? What if I want to listen to Car Talk on NPR?
It was at this point that I started to think of the Sansa Fuze as more of a media player, rather than just an mp3 player.

The FM tuner gets fairly good reception. It can seek to the next station, and can save stations as presets (using the presets is a bit clunky, but it’ll do).

What really set me over the edge with this feature is that you can pause, rewind, and record FM radio! How cool is that?? If you missed the name of the artist for a cool new song, REWIND it! Can’t tear yourself away from the game, or that cool new song? PAUSE it! And if you want to keep something for later, you can RECORD live FM radio and save it! It’s really like a DVR for radio.

Sleep Timer

If you're afraid of running the battery down because you fall asleep while listening to the Fuze, no worries! You can activate the sleep timer to tell the Sansa Fuze to turn itself off after a given amount of time.

Ratings

If you sync regularly with the media player on your computer, you may want to rate the songs you’ve been listening to on your Fuze. Well, the Sansa Fuze lets you rate the song you’re listening to.

Equalizer

The equalizer allows you to choose from several presets for different types of music. It also has a customizable equalizer setting, which lets you tweak it to be just right for your headphones or speakers.

Voice Recorder

Ever wish you had an audio recorder handy? Well now you have one! The Sansa Fuze has a microphone that’s used to create recordings of anything. They named the feature “Voice”, which I suppose is intended to convey that you can make verbal notes. But it really can be used to record anything.

Slot Radio

Slot Radio is a SanDisk feature that allows to buy micro-SD cards pre-loaded with 1000’s of songs for a lower price than buying them all separately. I haven’t used this feature, but you can check it out at www.slotradio.com.


Settings

There are a lot of configurable settings on the Sansa Fuze, such as adjustable backlight brightness, and a variety of settings applicable to each of the functions (music, video, photos, etc).

One setting that is a good idea, in my opinion, is two maximum volume settings. The lower setting is best for headphones, where there is often concern about overdoing it and damaging ones hearing. But sometimes the lower setting isn’t enough if your plugging it into an AUX jack of your stereo or something, so there is a higher volume setting for those situations.

Getting Updates

WIth a lot of devices, if you want to get an update, you have to go to the company website, download it, and install it yourself. But SanDisk provides the Sansa Updater, which you install on your computer. It will check for updates, and if there are any, it will download them and install them for you. Couldn't be easier!

Summary

So, all-in-all, the Sansa Fuze is an excellent player for the money. I think it was the right buy for me, and I recommend it to anyone who’s on a budget and who hasn’t been locked into the iPod world yet.

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