I got myself a little treat for the new year - a new MP3 player. I'd been thinking about it for a while, and a combination of my Christmas bonus and the fact that my old Sansa e280 would no long connect to my computer finally motivated me to take the plunge.
This time, I decided to go minimal. As I mentioned, my last MP3 player was a Sansa e280, which isn't exactly the Cadillac of MP3 players, but has a pretty decent feature set. It was certainly one heck of an improvement over the one I had previously - an old Digitalway MPIO with a whopping 256MB of internal storage and a massive 3-line monochrome display. The Sansa e280, on the other hand, has 8GB of internal storage, a decent sized screen, and can display pictures and videos. With the RockBox open-source firmware, it also has some simple games and apps, as well as microSDHC support (the Sandisk firmware only goes up to 2GB microSD cards).
The thing is...I never really used any of that. Granted, the microSD slot is a God-send, and I used to occasionally play games on it. But I never had more than a couple of pictures of videos on it and really only used it for listening to music and podcasts. And for videos or games, I now have a CAANOO. So why not get something a bit smaller that just does the one thing I really care about?
So this time I went with the Sansa Clip line. In particular, the new Clip Zip, successor to the Sansa Clip+, which I was originally considering.
The Clip Zip has a lot of things going for it. First, there's the form factor. It's tiny - only 2.25" by 1.42", about the same size as the pouch I use for my headphones. Second, it's cheap. The Clip Zip comes in both 4GB and 8GB models and starts at $50. I got a 4GB model on sale for $40, which is about what you'd pay for a 4GB no-name MP3 player. Third is the storage capacity. Of course, there's nothing impressive about the internal storage, but it doesn't matter because the Clip Zip has a microSDHC slot. So for another $30, I added a 32GB microSD card to my order, giving the Clip Zip a total capacity of 36GB. Not bad for a $70 investment.
So far, I really like the Clip Zip. I was initially disappointed that RockBox didn't have a stable port for it yet, but it turns out that the Sandisk firmware is actually pretty nice. The menu system is easy to use and looks nice, as does the "playing" screen with background cover art turned on. The firmware automatically sorts by artist, album, genre, etc., and separates podcasts and audio books into a separate menu item, which is kind of nice. It also includes the option to let you browse the actual folder structure on disk rather than using the database, which is something I always wanted in the Sandisk firmware on the e280.
The only thing I don't like about the firmware is the media refresh. As with the e280, the Clip Zip will do a "media refresh" every time you write data to the disk when it's connected to a computer or when you insert a microSD card (even if it's the same card you just removed and nothing has changed on it). This normally wouldn't be a huge deal, except that with a large media collection the refresh can take a very long time. I have a little over 20GB of audio on my microSD card, and the refresh was initially taking between 12 and 15 minutes. With some adjustments to the ID3 tags on my files, I was able to knock it down to about 8 minutes - still a long time, but not as bad. (For future reference, I used Mp3tag to tag everything as ID3v2.4 UTF-8, removing all other tag versions and blanking the comments field.)
As far as the hardware goes, I have no real complaints. I must confess that the Clip Zip does feel a bit flimsy compared to my e280, probably because the casing is all plastic as opposed to the metal backing on the e280. However, it seems to be reasonably well made. The controls are easy to use and I've found myself using the clip on the back far more than I ever thought I would. And I have to say the that the micro USB charging port is a welcome change from the proprietary port that the e280 used. With the Clip Zip, I don't even have to bring a dedicated cable with me when I travel - I can just use the same one I use for my cell phone or Kindle.
So I would definitely recommend the Clip Zip. It's simple, inexpensive, does its job well, and is surprisingly full-featured for the price and size.
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