My Clip Zip review

Sandisk has released a new model in the Sansa Clip family: the Sansa Clip Zip.

Design : the Zip has a few sylistic changes, but it’s still recognizably a Clip. Except for a slight rounding of the top and bottom edges reminiscent of the original Clip, it’s almost exactly the same size as its square-edged immediate predecessor, the Clip+. The controls are wider and slightly shorter, with the main four-position (Play/Pause, FFW/Skip, REW/Skip, and Menu) button taking up the full width of the face of the player.These buttons do double-duty as navigation controls in menus. The center Select button is now rectangular, and this button also has special functions in some modes. The Back/Home button has been moved from above and to the right of the main button to above and to the left, with the main button wrapped partway around the Back/Home button. The Power/Lock button is now at the center of the top edge of the player. Holding the button turns the player on or off. Briefly tapping the button while the player is on lock or unlocks the other controls (except the volume control), which is useful for preventing accidental button presses if you put the player in your pocket. The Zip still has the microSD slot on the right side and integrated clip (for attaching the player to your clothing/belt/bicycle/whatever) on the back.

Perhaps the most dramatic change is the screen. The new screen is the same width as the old one, but it’s now approximately TWICE as tall, and full-color!  The Zip will display album art, and has the same colorful menu icons as Sandisk’s last offering, the Sansa Fuze+.

Finally, the mini-USB port has been replaced with a micro-USB port, which is pretty much now the universal standard for small devices.

Functions : At the top level of the menus, there are seven options: Music, Radio, Books, Voice, Card, Sport, and Settings.

     _ Music _: The Zip plays MP3, WMA, secure WMA, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and now DRM-free AAC (.m4a files) for you iTunes junkies. Gapless support is included for properly-encoded MP3s. Audio quality is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Sansas.

Files can be added in either MTP mode or MSC mode (selectable from the Settings menu), either by “syncing” or plain old drag-and-drop. In MTP (Music Transfer Protocol, a Microsoft invention, and installed as part of Windows Media Player 10 and higher) mode, it will appear as a media device in Windows Explorer/My Computer. Use MTP mode when transferring “secure” (DRM’d) tracks, or the track licenses won’t transfer and the files will be unplayable. In MSC mode, player-PC communications are handled just as if the player were a simple flash drive. Be aware that files transferred in one mode are invisible to your PC when connected in the other mode (this is not a flaw in the player, it’s just the way those modes work. Perhaps MS can tell us why.) Regardless, the player itself sees all files transferred in either mode. There’s actually a third mode, “Auto-Detect”, but it should be avoided in my opionion, because the PC may not always correctly report its capabilities (again, blame it on MS), potentially leading to files being transferred in one mode during one session and some transferred in the other mode during another session. This often leads to confusion when some files appear missing/“invisible” while browsing on the computer, as I mentioned before. Mac/Linux users should choose MSC mode. MTP mode is not a standard feature of those OSes, as far as I know.

     _ Radio _: The Zip has a digital FM tuner, with up to 40 presets and RBDS (Radio Broadcast Data System, called RDS outside the US) support. RBDS is used to transmit text data (identifying the song title, artist, station call letters, or virtually anything else the station chooses) on a sideband alongside a station’s main FM frequency. I can’t comment on how well RDBS works though, as I live in a rural area and the only regional stations that transmit RDBS data are too distant for the weaker sideband signal to come through.  Another improvement: the low-level background noise produced on the Clip+ when the display was lit appears to be absent on the Zip.

     _ Books _: This is where the Zip puts audiobooks and podcasts. I can’t judge this feature, as I’m not an audiobook/podcast listener. There are a few I’ve been curious about though, so this may eventually get some use.

     _ Voice _: Used for making and playing back voice recordings. The Zip has a built-in microphone on top, near the power button. The Zip saves recordings as WAV files (to internal memory only, hopefully an option will be added to allow saving to the microSD card), so long recordings can be quite large, leaving less room for other content. Plan accordingly. It’s probably best to set the player down before starting recording, as the microphone will capture noise from movement.

     _ Card _: This is used for playing slotRadio cards (probably slotMusic cards also, but I couldn’t find this in the manual. slotRadio and slotMusic cards are both proprietary Sandisk formats), or if you just want to listen to what’s on your own microSD or microSDHC card without also having to sift through the contents of the player’s built-in memory. This works the same way as selecting Music>Folders>External Card.

     _ Sport _: In this new mode introduced on the Zip, the player can be used as a stopwatch, with accuracy to tenths of a second. While the timer is running, pressing the Select button records lap times. A log of the current timer is saved automatically when “New Timer” is selected. You can view and delete saved logs from the menu. This mode will probably be a welcome addition for the athletic type, but in all honesty, it’s just a novelty to me.

     _ Settings _: This is where you’ll find all the options for configuring the player. There’s System Settings, Music Options, Audiobook Options, Podcast Options, and Radio Options. Under system settings, you can turn album art on or off, change the brightness and duration of the backlight, and a myriad of other settings. One notable new addition is the Customize submenu. Here, you can turn on or off any of the top-level menus (Music, Radio, etc., EXCEPT for Settings. If you turned off Settings, there would be no way to turn it back on. :)) Music Options is where you turn Shuffle and Repeat on or off. Audiobook Options let you set playback speed and turn chapter mode on/off. Podcast Options has only one thing to configure at this time: Speed slow, normal, or fast. Radio Options lets you delete presets, set the region (“USA” or “World”), and stereo or mono mode.

Overall impressions : I really like the new Clip Zip. It looks quite nice, and the larger controls should be easier to use for all but the fattest-fingered. Mine is “Gunmetal Grey”. Not the most visually exciting color, but more interesting than the seemingly universal choice of black or white (or sometimes just black). More color options will almost certainly appear sooner or later, if they aren’t available already. I’ve only tested it with MP3s, but as I said earlier, sound quality is excellent. FM reception works well with the limited stations available in my area. I’ll probably turn off Voice and Sport modes, but they are certainly modes others will find useful. Having a slot for flash memory expansion is great, and it irks me that it isn’t a standard feature on ALL devices of this type. Two minor gripes: despite the screen size increase, the screen is still pretty small (less than 1 inch square) and low-resolution. Album art is clear enough, but reading text printed on the art can be difficult.  Small text? Forget it. And sometimes the time display and battery status icon can get lost in the album art. They should be redesigned, or at least shown in a brighter color.

I should also say that before I transferred any of my own files to the Zip, I listened to the preloaded content (8-9 forgettable songs, an NPR “Car Talk” podcast, and a handful of short “EarthSky” podcasts). At the end of almost every file, there was a very brief burst of what could be best described as white noise or static. After I listened to those files, I reformatted the player and updated the firmware before loading up my own files. The problem hasn’t since recurred in several hours of listening, so I’m thinking it was either an issue with the original firmware or the way the preloaded tracks were put on the player.

Final word : The Clip Zip is nearly perfect for my simple needs. 4.5/5

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