Review: SanDisk Sansa Fuze
This is the second Sansa product I have bought. The first one was the Clip that served me well for a few years until it died. In need of a new device I saw the refreshed product line from SanDisk that includes the Fuze+, the Clip+ and Clip Zip. For hardware I'm usually a very late adopter. For software, being a Fedora user, not so much.
I tend to buy stuff for myself from the discount computer sellers online like newegg.com, tigerdirect.com and geeks.com. I had a $25 credit from geeks.com so I decided to check out what they had and found a refurbished black 4GB Fuze model for $28.88. They also had a Fuze+ model but it was about twice that... so I opted for the Fuze.
The Fuze has all of the features that I liked about the Sansa Clip and more. It plays mp3, wmv, ogg vorbis, and flac. It has a built-in radio tuner with scanning and the ability to create pre-sets. It has a voice recorder and even allows for recording the radio if you like. The equalizer has several different pre-set modes and the ability to customize it as desired.
The Fuze acts like a USB storage device and works great in Linux... so I can easily copy / move files to / from it. For those already familiar with previous Sansa products, it has the same directory structure:
Simply copy the directories and files from your computer to where they should go within the directory structure on the Fuze and you shouldn't have any problem.
The Fuze has a 1.9" color display that has a resolution of 220 x 176. The display is not only attractive and easy to use but it also offers video playback.
The Fuze has a microSDHC card slot which can be used to expand the media storage. I added an 8GB microSD card to mine and have plenty of storage for cheap.
The microSDHC card slot also doubles as a slotRadio / slotMusic player. What is slotRadio? slotRadio is a proprietary format music format offered by SanDisk. SanDisk sells a number of slotRadio cards in various musical genres with each card offering between 500 and 1,000 songs. While slotRadio is very economical (around $0.04 a song at MSRP or even cheaper if discounted) and offers a quick way to build up a large music collection, it has a number of limitations that some people do not like. You can not copy the music off of your card and play it in non-slotRadio devices and access to the songlist is sequential without the ability to jump back or replay an individual song. slotMusic is very similar to slotRadio except that slotMusic cards are basically a single album by one artist. I don't think slotRadio nor slotMusic has been very successful in the market so there are only a handful of cards available.
One thing that no one seems to like about the Fuze is that it does not offer a standard mini-USB port for syncing and charging, instead it has a proprietary connector.
The Fuze user interface is actually quite attractive, fast, and easy to navigate. The menu it provides allows for easy access to all of the device features in a logical and intuitive fashion. Learning how to navigate takes a little effort but the navigation wheel, select and home buttons are easy and comfortable to use.
The battery life is quite good even with the larger screen. For audio playback it is rated around 24 hours but reports of 19-21 hours are typical. For video playback, where it has the screen on the entire time, battery life is generally reported to be around 4 hours. I'm not sure how long it takes to completely recharge but I think it is about 1-2 hours.
With most computer audio player applications being somewhat complex these days, it is assumed that your media library is well organized and that your files are all internally tagged with useful metadata. If not, it is a good idea to spend some time with a media player with tagging features (like VLC) or a tagging specific app like easytag. The Fuze uses the tag metadata to provide various groupings so you can find what you want to play several different ways... by Artist, Album, Title, etc.
As an audio player, the Fuze pretty much does everything one would expect or want. It has excellent sound quality, a reasonable feature set, supports several free / open codecs, and is easy to use.
As a video player, the Fuze leaves a lot to be desired. First the display is very small as is the resolution. The video player offered by the Fuze is very limited in the formats / codecs it accepts. You absolutely have to convert your video media specifically for the Fuze. SanDisk offers a video converter program for Microsoft Windows only and although I haven't tried it myself, from what I've read it tends to do a fairly bad job with regards to audio / video sync.
I've been using mencoder and ffmpeg for years and one would think it would be easy to convert video for the Fuze with either of them but unfortunately that is NOT the case. You can get the container, video codec, audio codec, framerate, resolution and bitrates just prefect only to discover that the video will not play because the Fuze expects a non-standard file layout. Luckily some free software developers figured out the proprietary file format and wrote a converter named video4fuze.
Given the hoops one has to jump through to convert video for the Fuze, it still plays back at 20 frames per second so video can be a bit choppy.
If you are primarily wanting a usable mobile video player the Fuze is NOT it. Having said that though, I'm glad to see SanDisk added video playback features because hey the screen is there so why not use it?
All of that and RockBox too
I'm sure most folks in the free software world have heard of RockBox. RockBox is a project that offers alternative software for a fairly large number of consumer devices including the Sansa Fuze but not the Fuze+. My unit is a Fuze v2 with the latest firmware and fully supported by RockBox so I dicided to give RockBox a try and really like it. I plan on doing an additional blog post about RockBox on the Fuze so I won't go into too much depth here other than to say that on the Fuze, RockBox is like a dual-boot computer and it is easy to switch back and forth between RockBox and the built-in Fuze firmware so you can have the best of both worlds.
While many people think that the Apple iPod owns the market the Sansa product line has a lot more features, is cheaper, doesn't require iTunes, and is compatible with a much wider range of hardware and software including Linux. My Sansa Clip only died after I carried it around in my pocket for three years and I got a lot of use out of it so I can't complain. I liked the Clip so much I looked again at the SanDisk Sansa offerings for my new purchase.
The Fuze has been out for a few years now and has actually been replaced with the Fuze+. The Fuze+ offers a bigger display screen (2.4") and higher resolution (320 x 240), a standard mini-USB port, and a new "touch" type control scheme. While the upgraded video of the Fuze+ makes it better for video playback from what I've read the Fuze+ user interface is significantly slower to navigate and many people do not seem to like the touch countrol scheme.
Given the fact that the Fuze is now dated and can be found at significant discounts and there seems to be a good supply of even cheaper refurbished units... and given the fact that the Fuze+ is not yet supported by RockBox... I recommend the Fuze over the Fuze+ at this time. If you want a quality, full-featured audio player that works well with Linux, any of the Sansa line will work well. If you want a nicer, easier to navigate screen that offers limited video playback features without a dramatic increase in cost, the Fuze is the way to go... especially if you aren't into the whole smartphone-that-does-everything craze.