Review: Sandisk Sansa Clip
I have always wanted a good quality audio player that works well with Linux and plays Ogg Vorbis files. Even though the Sansa Clip was originally released in 2007, I somehow missed it. The gang on The Linux Link Tech Show mentioned the Sandisk Sansa Clip as being an affordable, quality portable audio player that worked well with Linux so I decided to give it a shot. I did a little bargain hunting online and found a refurbished 1GB unit for $18.95 plus shipping so I thought it was hard to go wrong for that price. The unit arrived three days ago and I spent all weekend using it.
All of the reviews I'd come across (including a few video reviews) gave it high marks. The latest firmware available for it allows for playback of .ogg (Ogg Vorbis) and .flac (Free Loseless Audio Codec) in addition to .mp3, .wav, .wma and Audible.com DRMed audiobooks. It DOES NOT play .m4a (AAC) format. I prefer to use formats that are not patent encumbered so the vast majority of my music is in .ogg/.oga format.
Some of the reviews I read said the Sansa wasn't as stylish as the Apple iPod products but I have to disagree. I think the Sansa is very stylish. It actually looks like an earlier generation iPod but smaller. It comes in the following storage capacities: 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. As previously mentioned, the unit I got was the 1GB model.
It has only two connectors: a headphone jack, and a mini-USB connector. The USB connector is used for file transfers and charging the internal battery.
The unit is made out of plastic and has a polished shiny finish to it that looks a little toyish. It is quick to pick up fingerprints. The unit I got is black. Even though it is plastic it seems fairly durable. I dropped it once getting out of the car and it fell about 5 feet onto rough concrete but it was unscratched and fully functional.
Some reviewers mentioned they were unhappy with the placement of the headphones jack (it is on the right side of the unit) and that they would have have preferred it to have been on the top... but that really depends on how you clip it. I wear a lot of button up shirts and clipping it on sideways with the jack facing up seems fairly natural to me so I can't really complain.
The screen is very readable. The contrast and brightness seem to work well in all settings except for bright, direct sunlight. It is especially cool looking in the dark.
Battery life is stated to be about 15 hours. I didn't time it but I did use it for most of a whole day and had about 26% charge left. Charging is done via a short (about 8 inches) regular to mini USB cable. There is an optional AC adapter/charger available for an extra cost. Charging it from my laptop seemed to take a few hours.
The Sansa Clip really has some nice features above and beyond a simple audio media player. When you turn on the unit you will notice four things in the menu: 1) Music, 2) Settings, 3) Voice, and 4) FMRadio. The first two have all of the features you'd expect from an audio player but the latter two are pretty unique in a budget player. The Sansa Clip has a built in microphone and can do voice recording. It also has a built in FM radio tuner so you can listen to live radio if you want... but you can also record radio content if desired. In the three days I've had the unit I've not used the radio or voice recorder much... other than to see how they work.
Music playback is what you'd expect. Every review I've seen has mentioned the quality sound that the unit produces and one even said that using a $500 pair of earbuds with the unit was not overkill. I'll be sticking with the default earbuds that came with the unit myself.
The information present on the display during playback is what you'd expect... artist, song title, album name, track number, and a progress bar for the playback including a playtime indicator.
The Settings menu includes: 1) Equalizer, 2) Power, 3) Display, 4) Language, 5) FM Settings, 6) Volume, 7) System Info, 8) Reset All, 9) Format, 10) USB Mode, and 11) Press and Hold. I won't cover each area of the settings but I will mention a few things that stand out.
Display - You can adjust the brightness as well as the length of time the display stays illuminated before switching into power savings mode by blanking the display.
Power - AutoPower, how long without activity the unit will stay on before turning itself off to conserve battery. The available choices rang from 30 seconds to 1 hour with reasonable increments... as well as turning automatic powerdown off completely.
Equalizer - It has 6 choices including Normal, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Classical, and Custom. I'm not one who messes with equalizers too much and found Normal to be my preferred.
System Info - Very handy feature. Tells you the Firmware version, Memory used, Free space, Number of items (songs, audiobooks, podcasts, voice recordings, FM recordings), and Power charge.
I think the embedded software of the Sansa Clip is very high quality and fairly intuitive. The unit I got did not have the most current version of the firmware so I downloaded and upgraded it. I read on an online forum that there was a way to upgrade it from Linux but the default firmware download was an .exe file so I just hooked it up to my wife's Windows box and upgraded it from there. Sorry for wimping out on that portion.
Audiobooks and Podcasts
Audiobook and podcast listeners will be happy to know that the software remembers where you were last listening and will continue where you left off. Your listening position within an audiobook or podcast will be retained if you play other music... and when you return back to a audiobook or podcast it will ask if you want to continue where you left off or start at the beginning.
There is a case where it will dump the where-you-were information and that is when you plug in the unit to a computer for charging or file transfers. When the Sansa Clip gets plugged into a computer it is no longer accessible as a media player... it can only charge or transfer files. When you unplug it from the computer it automatically rebuilds the media database and as a result of that process the where-you-were in audiobooks and/or podcasts is lost.
If the where-you-were information gets lost, that doesn't mean you have to start all over. Just play the audiobook again and hold down the right arrow on the wheel to fast forward. The longer you hold the faster it will go... so it does take a little getting used to... and you may need to backtrack some if you overshoot.
The Sansa Clip actually has three playback speeds: Slow, Normal, and Fast. Normal is normal while Slow and Fast will change the speed of the playback as well as the pitch of the voice(s) in the recoding. To access the playback speeds, as well as a few other features (like being able to delete an audiobook after you are done with it), just arrow down during playback or while paused to reveal an additional menu.
Sansa Clip vs. Apple iPod Shuffle
Since the Sansa Clip is pretty small it seems reasonable to compare it to the Apple iPod Shuffle. My wife has the previous generation Shuffle and my inlaws have the new generation Shuffle (with all of the controls on the earbud cable) so I feel quite comfortable comparing the iPod Shuffle to the Sansa Clip.
How do they compare? The Sansa Clip kicks the iPod Shuffle's ass. The main reason is the Sansa Clip has a display screen. Need more reasons? The Sansa has a lot more features... most of which I have covered already. The Shuffle doesn't have an FM tuner, doesn't do voice recording, doesn't have a display screen, and (mostly) only works with iTunes on Windows and Mac. It seems that every iTunes upgrade or firmware update Apple comes out tries to break compatibility with non-iTunes applications... and yes, it is on purpose.
Using the Sansa Clip with Linux
How do you use it with Linux? Just plugging it in via the USB cable makes it appear as a USB storage device. Just drag and drop media files into the directories pre-created on the unit. The Sansa Clip comes populated with the following directories:
Just place your .ogg files in the MUSIC directory... or if you like to be more organized, you can create a hierarchy of directories for artist and album if you wish.
Inside of the RECORD directory are two additional directories FM and VOICE which the Sansa Clip uses to separate recordings you might make.
The Sansa Clip really ignores any hierarchy you might put in the MUSIC directory and gets its information from the tags embedded inside the media files. Most media player software works this way so you might find yourself spending some time cleaning up the tags in your media files. The Sansa Clip uses the tag data to organize the music into the various display categories it offers (Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, etc)... as well as the information it provides during playback. I found that a small portion of my digital music collection had poor or no tag data so I installed easytag and took care of that.
If you put some files in the AUDIBLE, AUDIOBOOK, or PODCAST directories, they will show up in the expected section under Music.
The Sansa Clip offers two USB modes although I'm really not familiar with the distinctions between them and just use mine in the simplest mode... as a USB storage device as mentioned above. It is my understanding that there are plugins for some of the Linux media players that allow for a more integrated use of the Sansa Clip and "syncing" type operations. I have not explored those.
I give the Sansa Clip two thumbs up. It is affordable, it has a lot of features, it is durable... the software works well and it sounds great. It works great with Linux.
If you need / want a nice, Linux compatible audio player, buy a Sandisk Sansa Clip now... especially with some of the discounted prices that you can find locally or online. Sandisk also has a pricier model named the Sansa Fuse that has a bigger screen and does video playback.