When it was time for SanDisk to update the Fuze, they dubbed it the Fuze+ rather than make it a completely new player- just as they did with the Sansa Clip+. While the Clip+ truly was a minor (but awesome) update though, you can stare at the Fuze and Fuze+ for hours without seeing the connection. Some of the “updates” are for the better, but others are not.
- Sandisk Sansa Fuze+ Specs
- Screen: 2.4″ 320×240 pixels
- Supported formats: MP3, WMA, Secure WMA, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, AAC, Audible
- Connectivity: microUSB, MTP/MSC user selectable
- Storage: 4, 8 or 16GB + microSDHC slot
- Battery life: 24 hours audio, 5 hours video
- Features: radio, video, podcast, audiobooks, photos
- Review based on firmware 2.37.1
The original Fuze is a pretty rectangular device, with a scroll wheel that seems to point towards iPods as the origins for the design. The Fuze+ however have left most of its tactile controls behind and gone for a more rounded off, pebble shaped device. It has a lot more in common with some of the older Samsung players than with the original Fuze, and it’s definitely a lot more ergonomic. The back is rounded off in all directions so that holding it is like holding a bar of soap, and it generally looks a bit more 2011.
The front of the player holds the main playback controls, which are now in the form of a capacitive touchpad instead of the old scroll wheel and buttons. It works a lot like a capacitive touch screen that you’d find on most touch screen cell phones and tablets these days, but you’re touching static symbols rather than a screen. I’m not a big fan of touchpads and right off the bat this is one of the biggest disadvantages of the Fuze+, but I’ll get back to that later.
The three tactile buttons left on the player are located on the top and left side of the player. The top has the on/off switch (which doubles as a control lock button) and the left side holds the volume rocker. The left side also has the microSDHC slot that survived the transition from the original Fuze.
The bottom holds the 3.5mm headphone port, located square in the center of the player. Some people dislike having the headphone port on the bottom, while others feel that it makes it easier to pull the player out of a pocket and get it the right side up.
One very noticeable new feature is the lack of a proprietary dock connector like the Fuze, E200 and View has. Instead the Fuze+ features a microUSB connector, which is going to be the standard some day but still feels “unusual” when you’re used to miniUSB. The connector is also located on the right side rather than the bottom, which means that we’re unlikely to see any sort of dock for the player (which would have been pretty useless anyways since the lack of a 30 pin connector means no line-out, no video-out, and no remote control functionality).
The screen is 240×320 pixels, a nice upgrade from the original Fuze. The viewing angles are good with the exception of when it’s viewed from the top, which becomes the left side in landscape mode. Because of this, it’s easy to accidentally view it from an angle that makes the screen looks a lot worse than it is, and if you want to watch video on this you should actually be tilting the right side towards you a little bit to get the best result. This is pretty typical of cheaper devices, and something that it’s easy to forget is an issue if you’re used to higher end devices.
The interface has also been revamped on the Fuze+. It frankly looks a bit Zune-ish, for better and for worse. The wallpaper is automatically created using album art from music on the player, with colored filters overlaid for each menu item. You scroll left and right by swiping the touch panel, which is a somewhat slow process where you can easily hit play. You have 8 options; music, video, photo, radio, books (podcasts/audiobooks), voice, memory card and settings. The options that have content available show thumbnails, in form of album art for audio and still frames for video.
In the music menu, sorting options like artist/album has been turned into tabs rather than a list of submenus. You scroll left and right to switch between album/artist/songs/genres/playlists and up/down to scroll the list. The album tab also shows the album art beside each listing, while the other options just list the content in text. There are also deeper submenus for both artists, albums and genres where selecting an artist will show you albums and selecting an album will show an album art carousel letting you scroll left and right through albums. In other words, you can be fairly specific in what you choose with the Fuze+, which is a good thing considering this player can hold up to 48GB of music.
The other media menus have a lot less complicated sorting options. For video you can sort by name or duration, and that’s it. Photos can be sorted alphabetically or by date, books by podcasts/audiobooks/Audible. As for the card menu, that is basically just a copy of the main menu (with only music/video/books/photos) restricted to on-card content. Any content on the card integrates with the main content menus, so the card menu is really more for the SlotRadio cards, Sandisk’s series of microSD card pre-loaded with music. Be warned though that indexing a card to make this possible is a very slow process, with a couple of dozen songs I tried taking several minutes. I dare not speculate how long it would take to fully index a 32GB card, but there’s likely to be a new version of the Fuze out by the time it finishes. What’s even worse is that it needs to “load” the card every time it’s been removed, even though it has already indexed it. This is common issue with players that support external storage, and there’s no way around it.
The music playback screen has also been updated, putting a lot more emphasis on album art. The album art collage is still visible in the background, with the currently playing song’s album art displayed in circa 200×200 resolution on top. Below that you have progression bar, song title, artist and album info. Touching the middle of the touchpad while on this screen brings up options to rate the song, shuffle and repeat options, “add to playlist” option and an option to delete the track. Sandisk has made the same mistake so many others have with placing equalizer, replay gain and sleep settings in the main settings menu accessible only from the main menu, making it a pain to access those features.
The actual navigation using the touch panel is frankly absolutely horrible. It reminds me a bit of trying to use swiping gestures on a resistive touch screen, and compared to the excellent (and fast) scroll wheel on the original Fuze, Sandisk has taken the Fuze+ at least 10 years backwards in time when it comes to user friendly controls. Sometimes the panel doesn’t react, something you hit the wrong button, and sometimes the reaction from the player is so slow that it seems like it didn’t notice the touch input. As someone who’s now comfortably used to capacitive glass touch screens that react just the way they should, I barely even made it through this review without smashing the Fuze+ into tiny unrecognizable pieces , all because of the nightmarish controls. Forget about using the player with an armband, in your pocket, or any other way where you’re not concentrating fully. This new touch feature might sound modern on paper, but in reality it’s not even suited for flushing a toilet.
I still remember back in 2007 when the D2 came out, and 320×240 video was an awesome feature. I spent hours watching videos on that thing. creating a library of converted files. These days, you can get a 7″ HD capable media player for what the D2 cost back then. Many people have smartphones that can play awesome looking video without conversion, or stream directly off the net. Naturally, it’s hard to be impressed by 320×240 in this day and age, even if it’s a decent upgrade from the original Fuze. As with any such “not really a video player”, you need to convert the video before watching, using the Sansa Media Converter or other software that you tuen to the required video specs. The resulting video quality is decent as far as 320×240 video goes, but I think it’s safe to say that no one is going to buy the Fuze+ to watch video. If anyone is, they’re likely to be kids or others with low budgets- and for such uses, it will do a decent job.
The photo viewer on the Fuze+ is also somewhat limited, requiring conversion for most formats and of course being limited to the 320×240 resolution. The viewing angle issue becomes a problem here as well, since you’re likely to view photos in landscape and have the bad viewing angle be the left side. Still, it does the job for showing the occasional photo to your friends.
The radio on the Fuze+ is a nice surprise. Naturally it has the same preset functionality and auto-scanning as any other radio enabled player out there, but it also adds radio recording which is a far less common feature. Again they’ve placed some of the settings in the main settings menu rather than in the radio menu, but only region settings and stereo mode- no recording settings, and no timer to automatically record radio. Still, better than most radio enabled players.
Calling this section “books” is somewhat misleading as there isn’t an ereader in there, but rather audio books and podcasts. Sandisk has always been on the very front line of podcast and audio book support, acknowledging that they should have their own features separate from music for years. Audible support is also included, with such audio books also having their own section. Files that classify as one of these three will have a couple of extra features, namely the ability to resume playback and the ability to adjust playback speed.
What can I say? This thing sounds just like any other quality player in this price range. It doesn’t have line out, and it doesn’t have any useful sound enhancements other than the standard equalizer, so you end up with that “nothing to write home about” sound quality that is so common in players like this. Pair the Fuze+ up with a good pair of IEMs or headphones and you won’t complain, even if you won’t see anyone at you-know-where plug 14 tube amps, 3 DACs and a Pikachu made of ebony into it and swear that the Rapture is happening every time the thing is turned on.
The Fuze+ is not an easy player to judge objectively. On one hand, the design is good, possible storage capacity is excellent, menus are very nice looking and there are plenty of features for such a player. On the other hand. the controls are so beyond bad that it makes me want to cry. If you could rip out the touchpad on the Fuze+ and insert the scroll wheel from the original Fuze (and make the menus a bit faster) you’d have an excellent player. As it is, you have a very average player. I’d actually recommend a Sansa Clip+ over the Fuze+ unless video is an absolute necessity, as it’s certainly a less annoying experience as far as controls go. You can get the Fuze+ for less than $50 though (4GB), so I can’t be too hard on it. For a consumer level MP3 player that doesn’t care that the world is now full of Angry Birds enabled Android based media players and tablets, it isn’t a bad deal. After all, you have to at least triple the cost of the cheapest Fuze+ to get something that really stands out.