After making appeals to moms and tech neophytes everywhere with its ultra-simplistic SlotMusic and SlotRadio players, SanDisk returns to the land of real, full-featured MP3 players with the Sansa Clip+. Like its popular predecessor, the Sansa Clip, the Clip+ runs against the iPod Shuffles of the world with a compact and clippable (duh) profile, but makes an extra play toward practicality with the addition of a microSD slot that allows for expansion by up to 16GB.
Features and Design
SanDisk offers the Clip+ in three different capacities: 2GB for $40, 4GB for $50, and 8GB for $70. Considering that a 4GB Sansa Clip currently retails for $80 at the time of publication, that’s a considerable drop in price for the storage. Other features include a built-in FM Radio, voice recorder, and microSD slot that can handle cards up to 16GB.
In terms of dimensions, think of the Clip+ as a matchbox that plays MP3s. Not only does it match the dimensions to a tee, it’s extremely lightweight and comes pretty close to a cardboard box full of wooden sticks. True to the name, the back boasts a massive clip that springs open to grab firmly onto sleeves, waistbands and pockets. The 1-inch monochrome OLED screen, while tiny, has enough pixels packed into the tiny space to look quite sharp, and it easily gets all the vitals across, even in direct sunlight.
Controls should be familiar fare for past users of SanDisk MP3 players: A four-way pad on the front performs all the menu navigation and music control functions, a home button brings you back to the top menu, and a dedicated volume control on the left side determines how much you devastate your eardrums. The power button on top turns the player on and off when held down, or reactivates the OLED screen with a tap if it has gone into power-saving mode and turned itself off.
The miniUSB port hidden on the left-hand side of the device works for both data and charging, but a silicon cover piece would have gone a long way to help seal out dust and disguise it better. As it stands, it’s a bit of an eyesore, and probably would have been a little more discrete on the bottom edge.
Design on the Clip+ stands somewhere between an Apple museum piece and a throwaway no-name player from any given factory in Taiwan. The matte black plastic used for much of the shell and clip has a solid, almost-metallic feel, but the glittery colors on the front definitely feel like a throwback to 2001-era players. Looking back and forth between the design of the Clip and Clip+, we actually would have pegged the Clip+ as the older player, had we not known. Even so, we trekked outside wearing it without shame, and it has a sturdy, creak-free feel that gave us confidence in its ability to withstand a fall or a little rain here and there.
Testing and Usage
It’s hard to beat an MP3 player of this size for portability. After strapping it to a waistband or shirt, it all but disappears, even during activities like running and working out at the gym. True, it’s not as small or light as the iPod Shuffle, but we can confidently state that at this size point, you’ll never notice the difference, unless you plan on carrying about 100 of them around in a sack. Light is light.
Despite the lack of a full-color LCD, operation remains dead simple. The main menu contains options like voice, FM radio, music, settings and SlotRadio. Clicking to the right selects any option, and pressing to the left sends you back a step. It’s a tried-and-true menu system without many risks, but we’re happy to see it return on the Clip+, and never had any issues figuring out how to access features like radio recording or SlotRadio. To our pleasant surprise, the Clip+ also includes both preset equalizer settings and a five-band customizable EQ – an option sorely missing on many players. Along the same lines, you can browse by either tags (artist, album, etc.) or by folder, providing some much-needed flexibility for those who haven’t been as attentive to MP3 tags as they should.
SanDisk advertises a battery life of 15 hours from the internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and in everyday use, we can’t dispute it. The Clip+’s miserly OLED display and efficient internals will pump out tunes all day long and then some.
Like most budget MP3 players, sound quality from the included earphones is nothing to write home about, but at the very least, generous foam padding and light weight makes them comfortable to wear for long periods. Switching to Klipsch’s Image S4 and a pair of Grado SR60s for testing produced far superior quality with no audible distortion, and the Clip+ drove them both effortlessly to volumes most would find intolerable at full volume. For reasonable listeners, half volume produces more than enough bang. The audiophile set will also be happy to hear that the Clip+ supports the popular FLAC lossless audio format.
Despite the lack of an FM antenna, or even a pair of headphones with an antenna built-in, FM reception was excellent, and we enjoyed having the ability to effortlessly record broadcasts right over the air. However, RDS data like artist names and track titles (as SanDisk includes on the SlotRadio) would have been a nice addition).
Though the Clip+ works as a standalone MP3 player ready to handle the music library you already own, SanDisk couldn’t help rolling in compatibility with its SlotMusic and SlotRadio cards through the microSD expansion slot. As you may recall, we scoffed at the concept of paying for DRM-crippled music preloaded on microSD cards, but the ability to play the format can’t hurt. In fact, if you like the concept, the Clip+ makes a far better buy than a dedicated SlotRadio player. You can pick up a 2GB Clip+ and a 1,000-song SlotRadio card of your choice for $80, or pay $100 for a SlotRadio player with zero internal memory and a card picked out for you. That’s a no-brainer if we’ve ever seen one, especially considering the Clip+ is a more capable player with additional controls and features.
Interestingly, the Clip+ is also the first MP3 player to offer compatibility with the Windows 7′s new Device Stage, meaning it’s automatically recognized under that OS and gets a custom icon.
SanDisk’s Clip+ is truly the people’s MP3 player. While Apple has been busy stuffing the Shuffle into an even smaller profile and building a bizarre control profile that defies logic, SanDisk has been steadfastly improving the essentials: a bright screen, intuitive controls, and a reasonable price point. It won’t win any designs for industrial design, but a comprehensive list of pros more than make up for it. If you’re looking for an affordable, worry-free MP3 player to accompany you on your next trip to the gym, subway ride uptown, or run, make it the SanDisk Clip+. SanDisk claims the original Clip was the best-selling sub-$100 MP3 player in America, and we suspect the Clip+ will only continue that legacy.
• Extremely affordable
• Flexible, easy-to-use interface
• Small and lightweight
• FLAC support
• Accepts up to 16GB microSD expansion
• Compatible with SlotMusic and SlotRadio cards
• 15-hour battery life
• Bright, vibrant OLED screen
• Exposed miniUSB port
• Step backward in styling