SanDisk Sansa Fuze MP3 player

With the world going Apple mad, can SanDisk offer some respite in the form of the Sansa Fuze? We plugged in the 4GB Fuze to find out.

From a design point of view, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Fuze wasn’t that different to Apple’s iPod nano, which this player goes straight up against. We put that down to a form factor that works: a screen and simple controller for volume, track selection, menu navigation and so on.

The Sansa Fuze doesn’t take the minimalist approach however; whilst it has slick clean lines, it has more hard buttons: you have a "home" button and a combined power and Hold slider key as well. The power slider is most welcome, because it is a positive method of powering on and off the device, unlike the iPod’s occasionally dubious press and hold technique.

The back of the Fuze is a rubberised texture, so feels good in the hand, whilst the front is glossy – in the case of our review unit, black – which attracts fingerprints, but looks very smart. The central wheel (I’m trying not to call it a click-wheel) has a good positive feel to it, allowing you to simply and easily select the option you want.

Discreetly lurking on the side of the Fuze is the part that makes us go a little weak at the knees, for its pure simplicity. Yes, a microSD card slot. The idea here, say SanDisk, is to provide a new way of organising your music and managing your player. Of course, it means you can expand your 4GB player with an 8GB microSD card, and as SDHC is supported, you’ll be able to add bigger cards in the future, so suddenly the price looks very compelling.

SanDisk point out that you may not even want to use the internal memory, you could just use the microSD card and then move it from device to device. Refreshing – don’t you think?

When you insert a card, the album quickly updates and you view all your files together, there is no differentiation between internal and external memory, so it is a seamless integration. Whilst this is good for those that just want to expand the capacity, it does mean that if you plug in someone else’s card to listen to a particular song, you’ll have to navigate to that song from scratch.

The Fuze supports a number of formats, MP3, WMA, secure WMA, WAV, Audible and MP4. Windows users will find themselves using Windows Media Player by default, so it is worth considering the shortcomings of WMP in managing your music, however, you can navigate through the device and do things manually if you wish, as well as use other music management programs.

As with most modern players, the Fuze will not only look after your music, it will play video, and display your photos. But there is a little more packed into this clever little device. There is an FM radio and a voice recorder, plus, the option to record from the radio, so you can catch that song you love and play it back later.

We found that the radio settings needed to be set to the "World" region before we could get anything from it, then it is easy to select the frequency you want, or scan the range, and select favourite presets to return to later. The voice recorder is useful, but you’ll need space in the internal memory to be able to record anything, so again, using an external microSD card looks like a preferable option.

When it comes to audio quality: wow. The Sansa Fuze sounds superb. Of course, there any many factors to be considered here. The supplied headphones are perfunctory: they do the job. They are perhaps better than some rivals supply, and certainly better than your average mobile phone bundled headphones. But to get the most from the player, you really need to put something better in there. When you do, you’ll really appreciate the audio quality you get from the Fuze (so long as your music is good quality to begin with). We only have one minor complaint on the sound front, which is a small audible buzz when pausing, most noticeable when resuming playback.

The screen performance is good, with a 220 x 176 resolution at 20fps, but with a screen this small, you really don’t want to be watching videos for a long time – the Sansa View is better for that. The menus are simple, and you are not overwhelmed with options, although it is an irritation that sometimes the options you want are in the "Settings" menu rather than the, for example, Radio menu.

During playback you can still navigate menus and access a range of options, including the equaliser, which makes live changes as you scroll over, which is a nice touch. You don’t get the nice clean look of the iPod’s display, and it doesn’t appear that you can view the album art as a main picture, but it does appear alongside the artist, album and track information.

The internal battery, which is not changeable, will give you 24 hours of music, or 5 hours of video and charges through the supplied cable connected to USB, although accessory packs are available for separate mains or car charging.

Verdict

We were impressed with the SanDisk Sansa Fuze. It is perhaps not as stylised as its iPod rival, but it delivers more for your money, not just in the device itself, but combined with the potential for expansion through the external microSD slot. Overall, you get the feeling that this player is more useful than some popular rivals.

With great audio quality and competitively priced, the SanDisk Sansa Fuze is a serious contender as your next music player.

Also available in 2GB and 8GB and in a range of colours.