Neutron Bob, Slotmonsta, and All Sandisk QA testers.

Ok, first the good news:

Overall I like this new player better than the original Fuze.  It’s faster transfer speeds with Winamp and Rhapsody is fantastic.  I am so glad that Sansa used some very fast internal memory. 

Rhapsody Channels has always been painfuly slow ever since the first E280R.  The transfer rate for channels is amazing.

There are two issues that for me are nearly dealbreakers.

1.  The sluggishness of the UI with a nearly fully loaded device.  This is most apparant when switching to the Song “sub menu”.  This issue has been well documented and seems directly proportional to how many items are in a given list.  I understand software development and this could be an inherent design limitation on how the list is constructed.  I certainly hope not.  That being said, something needs to be done.  If it requires Sansa to add another “layer” to the menu then so be it.  A logical choice would be Alpha-Numeric layer so that the large list is broken down into smaller “chuncks” thus allowing for faster navigation between “Artist/Album/Song” catagories.  I hope QA specifically tests future firmware with fully loaded (8000 to 10000 files) database.  If they can nail performance in the 8000 to 10000 file range, then the rest will take care of itself.  This is a basic tenant of “boundary” testing as outlined in Kem Caner’s excellent “testing Computer Software” book. 

2.  Please test all future functionality in a dark room.  Much will be revealed.  I got up last night and tried to re-enable sleep mode on my player after it turned off (It fell asleep before I did).  I had to get out of bed and turn on the bedroom light since I simply could not find the “center” tap zone and kept hunting all around the sleep setting on the player like a bad game of pin the tail on the donkey. 

I have been experimenting with putting a very small piece of electrical tape right in the center to train my finger on where the center is tactically, but so far, the tapes abrumpt edges are too irritating to the finger.  I would try a small bead of fingernail polish if it did not void the warranty.  This might be something to think about in future hardware revisions, but for now we really need to find an alternative so that users can use this product in low lighting conditions. 

My suggestion is to have an alternate button or gesture available as a center tap.  Maybe widen the detection zone in the middle of the pad, or use the power button as an alternate “enter/selecct” button.  Yes, many power button/lock advocates would disagree but we need something to allow entry in low light conditions since the current center tap zone is so small.

And finally, please re-instate the “improvements” that were eventually put in the original Fuze but somehow found themselves missing in this versions.  Things such as folder navigation, looping menu structure, etc. were hard faught UI enhancements that were implemented by user feedback on the original unit, why they were not seen as “required” for the new hardware is beyond me and a step backwards.

I know I sound like I’m just complaining.  This is not the case.  I really like the form and function of the touch controls when they work.  The new Fuze+ is so close, and Sansa has normally had good support for its customers regarding firmware upgrades.  I hope this continues.

I agree, a wee bump at the center target area is a nice idea.  It’s kind of ironic that the center target is small, as I find myself zipping over to the next chapter or track in the elusive quest for the sweet spot.

 

There are a few tricks that might help.  First, the first touch will simply wake up the device during playback, if you touch the pad area.  You can then locate the desired spot with the illuminated display’s light.

It’s a good thing that the headphone connector is centered, as I find it a convenient reference point to use when tapping with my thumb.

You can also wake up the device during playback by touching one of the dedicated buttons for power or volume.

For the thin face panel, the chrome lines are a good contrasting line to locate.  If only a “light pipe” design could have been used for those lines, making them illuminated-  but that is difficult to implement in the touch screen area, as a narrow path requires a more intense light source.  I do think it would look really cool, though.

My daughters have wee stickies (little jewels) on their Clips, one of which would work quite well if a little dot was applied to the touchpad’s very center.  This can easily be removed of desired.  I have considered a little dot of acrylic as well.

Bob  :smileyvery-happy:

For some reason the back light was not reflecting well enough on my black fuze to allow me to see the touch pad when it was lit.

It’s also obvious that the designers never designed the interface to be used with the thumb.  Using your index finger provides so much more precision, and I half-way think that is the reason why some of us old time “thumbwheel” users are having such problems and some of the newer users not used to the thumbwheel of the older Sansas are not complaining as much.

I half expect some Sandisk employee coming out with a “you’re holding it wrong” comment like Steven Jobs tried doing covering the antenna faux pas on the newest I-phones.

If you hold the player in one hand and then use the opposite index finger for navigation, the player is much easier to use.  the tap zones and slide areas are definitely designed for the smaller profile of an index finger.

I have trained myself to use this player with two hands.and have achieved much happier results.

But I still think a wider tap zone in the center is needed, and the interface lag definitely needs work.  When Cowon introduced their first capacitive touch screen player it included a stylus if that tells you something.  While no stylus is needed here, some tweaks are definitely called for.

Two additional comments:

I’d like to see the boot time of the device shortened if possible.  Right now it takes almost a minute to boot, and that seems to be a long time.  I know we are dealing with new hardware and operating system, but an MP3 player really shouldn’t be taking this long to boot.

The last suggestion was a “nice feature” in Rockbox, but given the sensitivity of the touch pad on the Fuze+ this seems to be a requirement.  After the screen turns off during playback, make the first swipe or contact on the pad a simple “awake” swipe, then wait for a second or two to become active.   This way the wayward swipe when picking up the unit will not interrupt playback.

This was a cool feature in rockbox simply to see what was playing after the backlight extingquished, but on the Fuze is something that is really needed.  Picking up the unit the wrong way can really interfere with playback.  Sure, locking helps, but I don’t want to lock everytime I use the unit.

The irony of it is that the Fuze+ interface has this exact feature, if you test it out.  The first contact of the touchpad or a dedicated button is a “wake up” signal, then the following contact is interpreted as a command.

Thus, if you look closely, when the player errantly runs to the next track, it was that second touch that did it.

I support the idea of a modified lock scheme, and more advanced logic for command recognition.  There are many ways to change the way commands are interpreted, the art is discovering which implementation would work best. 

Bob  :smileyvery-happy:

You’re right.  Unfortunately the Fuze wakes up much faster than I do.  A nice enhancement would be a “wake up delay” that could be user defined.

After a wake on signal is detected, the user could set a “dead” time in which the touch pad would be “disabled”.  During this dead time, no incoming commands are ignored.  The user could set this for a number of “seconds”. 

So if I set the wakeup delay to say 3 seconds, then when I enable the device out of the screen saver mode, I would have to wait the delay time until it would accept commands.  That way indescriminate handling would not cause the player to interrupt what it’s doing. 

So I’m driving in the car, or at my desk, and I want to grab the player or see what the song is.  I grab the player, it wakes up, I look at the player and then set it down again.  Since this action all takes place in the defined delay time, the player does nothing but turn on the light.

I noticed that the initial work is being done on a Rockbox port for the unit.  It will be interesting how the developers will leverage the touch pad.  The rockbox dev’s are a picky lot and will not have the patience for the player to do things that they don’t want it to do, so it will be interesting to see how creative they get in dealing with the touch pad.

I myself am not a huge Rockbox fan simply because nearly all of the Rockbox mods out there disables DRM enabled content, and I am absolutely in love with my Rhapsody subscription and the ability to legally “test drive” any new album that comes out.  Netflix allows me to enjoy a number of movies I would never buy.  The same holds true with Rhapsody or Napster.

Unfortunately Rockbox breaks this capability, and no one on the Rockbox team has a problem with this because of their hatred for DRM.  (I don’t like it either for purchased tracks, but acknowledge it’s requirement for subscription based music).

Perhaps it’s simply a “sensitivity setting” we can set to our own preference. 

It’s a good thing that I’m a bit of a geek though.  My curiousity on how these challenges might be met exceeds my need for a trouble free intuitive player.  So I’m in it for the length of the ride.  However, I am starting to save my money in case I need to eventually replace the unit.