Here Now, Not Coming "Zune": Sandisk's Sansa Connect
Ever since I wrote up Microsoft's Zune five months ago, I've been waiting for a portable audio player that really made use of Wi-Fi, i.e. for something beyond just squirting 3 play/3 day tracks at other Zune owners you can't find because, well, there aren't many Zune owners yet. At first, I assumed it'd come in the form of a Zune firmware update because, well, the necessary hardware's already in place, right? Nope. Then, I figured Apple would release the Wi-Fi-equipped iPod of my dreams, probably at January's Macworld Expo, because, well, they're Apple, right? Nope again.
However, somewhat lost (although it did win two Best Of awards) in the press coverage craze that greeted the iPhone, simultaneously unveiled one state (CA) away and still not in production for at least two more months, Sandisk launched the product I was looking for at January's CES in Las Vegas, NV. It's the Sansa Connect, and it's now in production in partnership with Yahoo. Coincidentally, I've been a Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go subscriber for almost two years now. Is that cool, or what?
So how excited was I was to fire up the Sansa Connect? It showed up on my front door at 4:45PM last Friday afternoon. I hadn't yet packed for my trip to NAB. My shuttle van to the airport was coming at 3:30 the next morning. Yet, to my wife's great dismay, I proceeded to spend the next two hours playing with my new toy; I even broke the Cardinal Rule and didn't fully charge the batteries first. And I've continued playing with it over the past five days in Lost Wages; disconnected (except to my headphones, that is), USB-tethered to my laptop and (when the stars occasionally aligned….keep reading) wirelessly tethered to Wi-Fi networks.
Here's some high-level system stats, to kick things off:
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Dimensions: 2.05" (wide) x 3.58" (long) x 0.63" (thick)
- 2.2" QVGA color TFT LCD
- Rechargeable lithium ion battery
- 4 GBytes of embedded flash memory
- Additional memory expansion via MicroSD slot
- USB 2.0
- Wi-Fi (which, based on my download-speed testing, I'm guessing is 802.11b)
- Internal speaker, supplementing the headphone jack
And what can the Sansa Connect do? Here's what the user guide says:
- Browse and play digital music stored in the Music Library. MP3, WMA, and secure WMA audio formats [editor note: but not AAC] are supported.
- Listen to LAUNCHcast internet radio using the built-in WiFi connection.
- Download music wirelessly to your Sansa Connect from Yahoo! Music Unlimited.
- Transfer music from your PC with Yahoo! Music Jukebox.
- Recommend songs to your Yahoo! Messenger friends and other Sansa Connect owners.
- Create automatically updating Mixes of music similar to songs and artists you like.
- Get recommendations and popular songs from Yahoo! Music Unlimited.
- Use the built-in speaker to enjoy music even without the headphones.
- Insert a microSD card to add more storage.
- View photos from the microSD card, or from the Flickr photo service.
Notice the heavy-duty Yahoo services link-up? Thought you would. Simplistically speaking, the Sansa Connect is a $100 (or more)-more-expensive, Wi-Fi-inclusive upgrade of Sandisk's 4 GByte Sansa e260. And, at its foundation, it acts just like a traditional PlaysForSure unit. I already had Yahoo Music Engine installed on my laptop, and Windows XP natively supports the player's Media Transfer Protocol, so I just plugged it in. And it worked. I can copy music to it, from either Yahoo Music Engine or Windows Media Player, and either DRM-free or DRM-inclusive (and, in the latter case, either purchased or subscription).
In this foundation respect, you're not restricted to Yahoo Music Unlimited as your tunes provider; it'll work with any PlaysForSure-based service. The user interface is very intuitive; although I'd never used a Sansa before, I was up and running almost immediately. The track-to-track delays caused by subscription DRM validation are much shorter than with my iRiver H10. The Sansa Connect also gets much better battery life (a reflection of its use of flash memory instead of a HDD as its storage medium).
But the real magic happens when you wirelessly log in to your Yahoo account. All that bulleted-list stuff I mentioned above? It's true. Well, I can confirm that most of it's true. I don't have a Flickr account, so I didn't test photo access. And there weren't any other Sansa Connect owners around, so I didn't test 'squirting' (or, for that matter, getting 'squirted'). But everything else worked as advertised, and without a substantial hit to battery life.
Lest you think this writeup is going to be a Sansa fanboy lovefest, I've got a fairly substantial list of nitpicks which I'll try to cover in priority order. First and foremost, Sandisk is guilty of the same marketing-driven, obsolescence-assuring sin I've long grumbled about with respect to iPhones, iPaqs and many other portable appliances; an embedded battery. To put a non-user-replaceable battery capable of only a few hundred recharge cycles in a $249 widget is flat-out unacceptable, in my opinion.
Continue reading with 'Sandisk's Sansa Connect: Not Perfect (But Then Again, What Is?)'….