Clip Zip Review

The Clip Zip is the latest and greatest offering from SanDisk in their legendary Sansa line of portable music (mp3) players. While it is basically an updated version of the previous Clip+ (and originally the Clip) model, there are some interesting changes in this player.

First off is the name; the Clip Zip. I don’t know how the folks at SanDisk came up with this, but when one considers the alternatives (like Clip++ for example) I guess Zip is as good as anything else. The important thing isn’t the name; it’s that it does what it’s supposed to do. That is, reproduce music (and/or audio books and podcasts) accurately in a small, convenient package to allow one to carry their listening preferences around with them.

The Clip Zip is a handsome unit. The test unit I received is in a new color they call gunmetal grey. Although it will be available in 7 colors total, I suspect that as in previous models, not all colors will be available in all memory sizes.

Just millimeters larger than its predecessor, one of the first things one will notice is the new larger 1.1 inch full color screen. Yes that’s right, for all you album art junkies out there; this new Clip Zip player will now display all your cover art. I’m sure this wasn’t the only reason this upgraded display screen was added (and before you get your hopes up no, it doesn’t do video); SanDisk also borrowed the user interface from its recent Fuze+ player complete with graphical icons for the Main Menu options.

Secondly, one will see that the control buttons have been changed. Though still tactile, the control pad is now larger as well, encompassing the complete lower third of the face of the player. Some would call it a more modern look, while others feel it to be a bit retro.

Whatever it is, it’s darn good looking and the buttons have a positive feel to them. The center Select button is elongated horizontally, complementing the wider, brushed aluminum-looking control pad and the Back button (formerly Menu or Home) is now located on the upper left side of the pad, as opposed to the previous versions where it was placed on the right side. The Volume control is still on the left side of the unit and the power button on the top is moved to the center and is the same brushed aluminum color as the control pad.

The included cable that connects it to your computer in order to charge the internal, non-replaceable battery or add, or manage the content on it is not the same Mini-USB as with the Clip+. The Clip Zip now includes a Micro-USB connector which is quickly becoming the new standard in cell phones and other chargeable devices.

The clip (for which this series of players have been named) encompasses the complete back of the player and is quite solid, just like on the Clip+. The only regret I have with this design is that when opening the spring-loaded clip to attach or remove it from your pocket, sleeve or whatever you have it clipped to is that it pivots from the top of the unit, making it virtually impossible to operate it without getting finger (or thumb) prints on the display screen. Still it is much stronger, more substantial and less likely to break than the mechanism on the 1st generation Clip. Breakage, or failure of this design was rare on the Clip+, while the original, wimpy clip on the 1st model was too weak and broke often.

Of course, as with all SanDisk’s recent MP3 players, an SD card slot is present (on the right side), allowing for memory expansion. The largest internal memory size offered will be 8GB (as with the Clip+), but with 32GB Micro SDHC cards widely available and now reasonably priced, 40GB worth of music, audio books and/or podcasts in a device the size of a matchbook is possible.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen a 16 or 32GB internal memory size offered to compete with other manufacturer’s models, but SanDisk’s sales figures have shown the 4GB Clip+ version to be the top selling model, so it was decided that 8GB would be the “top of the line”. Still, Sandisk is the world’s largest flash-based memory manufacturer, and it seems odd to me that they don’t take advantage of that fact and capitalize on it with a 32 or even 64GB based player. But then, they only asked me to test and review this player; they didn’t consult me on the design or marketability of it.

There are those of us who like to carry a large, varied music collection or take advantage of larger capacity drives by using more memory intensive FLAC or OGG files, instead of lower bit-rate lossy .mp3 or .wma format files without needing to drag around extra memory cards to accomplish this. Whatever your reasons, bigger is definitely better in this case, and I would hope that SanDisk would realize this (as others have) and possibly add a larger memory model at some point in the future.

The Clip Zip also sports an FM Radio, like its predecessors, but unlike the Clip+, it is not hindered by RF interference (static) while the backlight is on. This was one of the very few problems on the Plus model, and I’m glad to see it got corrected in this design. New in this model though is RDS (Radio Data System) support which will display not only the call letters of the radio station being listened to, but also the track information if it is being broadcast by the station. As on previous Sansa players, one can still record from the FM radio or voice.

And speaking of sports, there is an addition new to the Main Menu that people have been requesting for some time. Many people like to use this small form-factored, clippable player when they exercise or go to the gym, but would like to time their work-outs. Now they can; there’s a menu item called Sport that is essentially a stopwatch feature that can save logs and time.

Another much-requested feature, real time is now present on the display. No need to look at your watch or cell phone to find out what time it is. I found the font a bit small and hard to read with the album art displayed in the background , but it’s possible this could be corrected in a firmware update, which Sandisk is known to provide periodically to work out bugs and incorporate enhancements.

As with SanDisk’s last updated player the Fuze+, the Clip Zip (or CZ as some are already nick-naming it) supports yet another digital musical format besides what we’ve come to expect from Sansa players (MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG). Former (or current) iPodders and/or people who use iTunes as their music source will welcome and appreciate the support of the AAC format (non-DRM iTunes format). This will eliminate the necessity of converting (and thus downgrading the quality) of an existing library of music in order to take advantage of this player.

Using the same AMS processor as its ancestor, sound quality and snappy screen changes as with the Clip+ is retained in this unit. Folder Navigation is also standard, and is one of the Music options. This is helpful to those whose libraries have ID3 tags that leave something to be desired, like to create mixes, or playlists into individual folders, or simply wish to navigate their collection as they do on their computer. The default Artist, Album, Songs, and Genres lists are still ID3 tag-based though, unless Folder navigation is selected.

Another handy feature in the Settings Menu is called Customize. The Main Menu items include Music, Radio, Settings, Book (includes Pocasts), Voice, Card (as in SlotRadio or SlotMusic pre-recorded cards), and the afore-mentioned Sport. If one does not want to see or have to scroll through items that they do not use, they can simply turn these OFF in the Customize menu. This is also a feature that people have been requesting for years with the previous Sansa players; it’s good to see it was finally incorporated in this player.

There’s also an alphabetical “quick-find” navigation assist when browsing large libraries and mile-long Artist lists. A quick double-tap on the center button in this menu will bring up a letter. Pressing the up or down button will quickly scroll through the alphabet, allowing one to find the artist they’re looking for in mere seconds instead of holding the button down for what seems like ages when trying to locate an artist starting with “The” for example. The menus also “loop” and one can turn this on or off, although I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want go from ZZ Top to ABBA in one button press, rather than scrolling clear up to the top on the list.

Despite the lack of any earth-shattering, technological advances or “Wow, I’ve never seen that before in a music player” features, this is a solid, well-built player that should give years of service and pleasure to whoever owns it. Given that it essentially a Clip+ with some additional “window-dressing” on it, and that it’s based on one of the most popular and trouble-free players that SanDisk has ever created, I predict its success in the marketplace is guaranteed.

If pressed to give it a star rating, I would have to give it 4 out of 5 stars. In my opinion, the lack of a larger internal memory prevents me from awarding it 5 stars, but that’s just me. Others who don’t need or want such massive storage capacity will surely be quite satisfied and happy with it.