Thin and lightweight, the SanDisk Sansa Fuze takes several of the features that we loved about theSansa View--smooth audio and video playback, photo viewing, FM radio, and a microSD/microSDHC slot--and packages it into a smaller, sleeker body that's far more travel friendly. Factor in the Sansa Fuze's very nice sound quality and a price tag that undercuts the 4GB iPod nano by $50, and you have a very strong contender.
Nice Looks, Familiar Design
SanDisk offers the Sansa Fuze in a variety of colors based on capacity. The 2GB model ($79.99) is available in basic black; our 4GB model ($99.99) comes in black, blue, red, and pink; the high-end 8GB model ($129) sports a silver body. This is certainly a welcome addition to the lineup as the Sansa View is only available in basic black. However, we found the display a bit dull and wished it was brighter.
Measuring 3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 inches and weighing just 2.1 ounces, the SanDisk Sansa Fuze fits easily into a shirt or pants pocket. It's a bit taller, thicker, and heavier than the 2.8 x 2.1 x 0.3-inch, 1.7-ounceiPod nano, but the difference is negligible. In fact, if it weren't for the Sansa logo located beneath the 1.9-inch display, it could almost be mistaken for an Apple device. The Sansa Fuze also has an illuminated mechanical scroll wheel in the center, which worked well, and a microSD/microSDHC Card slot housed on the left side.
Excellent Sound Quality and Wealth of Features
The Sansa Fuze is compatible with the Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows operating systems, so regardless of your OS, you can still rock out. Loading MP3, WAV, and WMV files (sorry, iTunes users, no AAC compatibility) was as simple as dragging and dropping them into the Fuze's music folder. You can also sync music to the Sansa Fuze using Windows Media Player. We enjoyed extremely loud audio when listening to Stoned Grace's Cast the First Stone album and found that the bass bounced with a pleasant vibrancy and the highs remained crisp, even through the bundled earbuds. Playback was smooth, and we didn't notice any choppiness. The Fuze's customization options include a five-band equalizer that lets you tweak audio settings to your liking. It also displays album art.
The Sansa Fuze is compatible with Napster, Rhapsody, and other subscription music services (Sansa includes a 30-day, free-trial membership using the included Best Buy Digital Music Store Media Manager software). We had no problems downloading and syncing music to the device. In addition, if you enjoy audiobooks, you'll be pleased to learn that you can listen to your favorite Audible titles on the Fuze. It even includes a cool automatic bookmark feature that let us pick up exactly where we left off when we took a break from Yann Martel's Life of Pi.
FM Tuner Performance
SanDisk tosses in an FM receiver with 40 presets (twice as many as the Sansa View) for tuning into your favorite radio programming. We found the reception acceptable while walking around Manhattan, albeit with some minor but persistent static. In a nice touch, you can even record radio content with the touch of a button, as one would do with a tape deck in years past. Also included is a voice recorder for taking audio notes, which offered solid, if slightly muffled, sound.
Photos, Video, and Battery Life
High-resolution JPEGs suffered from some jaggedness when viewed on the 220 x 176-pixel resolution display; low-resolution photos looked much better. Home movies encoded in the MPEG-4 format played smoothly but possessed a certain grainy quality (all other formats need to be converted with the bundled media software). Unfortunately, the Sansa Fuze doesn't support DRM video, so movies or TV shows purchased from such services as Amazon Unbox aren't compatible. Between listening to music and watching video, we saw approximately 20 hours of battery life.
All in all, the SanDisk Sansa Fuze is a terrific value. As SanDisk manufactures its own flash memory, it passes along the savings to customers in the form of a player that's $49 and $69 cheaper than comparable 4GB and 8GB iPod nanos, respectively. If you can live without the iTunes integration, you'll find the SanDisk Sansa Fuze an excellent digital audio player.