Smaller and cheaper than any smartphone, but still capable of playing pint-sized video, the Fuze+ media player competes for the same one-size-fits-all sweet spot held by the firmly entrenched iPod Nano. While it neglects Apple’s last-generation upgrade to touch and can’t compete with Cupertino on industrial design, its larger screen, video playback capability and significantly lower price will win it plenty of fans from those who can overlook the dodgy control scheme.
Take the Fuze, blow up the screen, freshen the graphical user interface, swap the scroll wheel for touch buttons, and you have the Fuze+. SanDisk hasn’t gone revolutionary with the latest iteration of its video-savvy media player, but it hasn’t sent prices skyward, either, so we’ll happily take whatever upgrades trickle down to this shockingly reasonable price point ($79.99 for the 4GB model) without complaint.
While SanDisk can’t challenge the build quality or stunning look of Apple’s anodized aluminum iPad Nano at this price, its industrial designers have managed to coax a little more character out of plastic this year. SanDisk seems to have taken inspiration from smartphones with a seamless edge-to-edge look on the front, touch controls rather than hard, clicky ones, and even a slightly ovoid shape and curved back that remind us of the “riverstone” design language on Palm’s Pre. On the bottom, the front hooks forward into a subtle chin, just like on the HTC MyTouch 3G.
Opting for dedicated controls rather than a touch screen does leave the Fuze+ with a bigger footprint than the new multi-touch iPod Nano at 2 inches wide and 3.75 tall (you could place two Nanos on top with room to spare), but the plastic case is comparably thin at about a third of an inch deep, and extremely light.
SanDisk bundles the Fuze+ with a pair of cheap headphones and a microUSB cable for charging and data transfer – and that’s all you’ll need. A wall charger would make a nice addition so you don’t have to rely on a laptop USB port when travelling, but we wouldn’t expect one at this price point.
The iPod Nano may outshrink the Fuze+ in its latest generation, but video playback becomes a casualty of that perpetual quest for smaller. The screen on the Fuze+ measures 2.4 inches, versus just 1.54 inches on Apple’s iPod Nano, and sports 320 x 240 resolution to Apple’s 240 x 240. It’s almost overkill for navigation, but works great for 4:3 TV content – provided you keep viewing sessions short. We found the screen tolerable for short clips and TV shows, but movies tended to wear at our patience with its small size, so-so brightness, and reflectivity. Dark scenes in particular can be difficult to see in situations where the screen competes with overhead lighting. While it will technically work for movies on a long flight, we see it getting more use watching half-hour TV shows on bus and subway rides, or breaking up long movies into smaller viewing periods.