The sleek, glossy black player is markedly bigger than the 4GB iPod nano--easily forgivable given the built-in Wi-Fi module, microSD Card expansion slot, and rear-mounted mono speaker. Below the bright, sharp 2.2-inch color LCD is a mechanical scroll wheel ringed by a blue LED.
SanDisk includes an AC-to-USB adapter (a huge bonus), a USB cable, earbuds, a lanyard, and a soft drawstring pouch, plus a CD with Yahoo Music Jukebox on it. The Connect works with Windows Media Player 10 and 11, as well as PlaysForSure services and MP3s. But to use the Yahoo-related features, you should install Yahoo Music Jukebox.
The cute, icon-based interface is responsive enough and extremely easy to navigate. The clickable wheel works smoothly, giving some tactile feedback. The Connect doesn't do video or FM radio, but with a Yahoo ID and a free Flickr photo-sharing account, you can access about 40 free Yahoo LAUNCHcast internet radio stations (if you're a subscriber, there's upwards of 120 stations to choose from), and Flickr photos. We especially like the ability to purchase songs you hear while listening to LAUNCHcast, even though not all of the LAUNCHcast tracks are for sale.
We had no trouble connecting to open networks, and the text-entry tool makes connecting to WPA and WEP networks and signing into your Flickr and Yahoo accounts easy. Too bad you can't search for specific songs as you can with the Music Gremlin; instead, Yahoo Music provides lists of popular tracks in various genres. (SanDisk is looking to enable this feature with a firmware upgrade in the future.)
The Wi-Fi radio's range was adequate but not great. Over-the-air downloads of four-minute Yahoo subscription tracks took anywhere from 40 seconds to three minutes, depending on network variables, but Internet-radio playback was dropout-free, even with a low signal. Photos look very good, and you can listen to music while you watch slideshows.
The device detects other Connects nearby, as well as Yahoo Messenger friends via the Internet. You can't create ad hoc networks to send songs to someone as you can with the Zune, but you can send recommendations (not the tracks themselves) to other Connect users via Yahoo Instant Messenger. You can also share recommendations locally if both Connect devices are connected to the same wireless network. The advantage of this approach is that the Sansa Connect doesn't lock you into the Zune's lame three-days-for-three-plays restriction. When you provide a recommendation, the track that the other Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go subscriber downloads is theirs to keep.
The audio quality of WMA subscription tracks was very good, but tracks imported from personal libraries were slightly problematic: A swirling background noise during silences indicates the MP3 decoder has a minor glitch in it. The included earbuds sound surprisingly good, with decent bass response and acceptable detail. The mono speaker is very tinny, but you can get the general idea of what something sounds like. The built-in nonremovable battery gives you about 6 hours with Wi-Fi on and 12 without. These aren't impressive numbers, but you can disable the Wi-Fi feature if you want to save on battery life.
Overall, the Sansa Connect is a versatile digital audio player that does an excellent job of leveraging the power of Wi-Fi. A Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go subscription isn't absolutely necessary, but it does add a lot of value to the device. Because the firmware is upgradable over the air, we expect this device to get better over time, but even as is, the Sansa Connect is pretty sweet.
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