The Clip Zip--A review

The SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip–the SanDisk Sansa Clip line further popularized for all

The pros:

  – all the benefits of the Clip+: great sound; small; microSD card support; FM radio (with record capability); recorder; gapless play; optional folder navigation; multiple formats support (mp3, wma, ogg vorbis, flac); file drag-and-drop capability; ad hoc playlist creation; cute and appealing

  – new: aac file support for DRM-free aac format files; small color screen with album art display; time-of-day indication; “sports mode” with timer and lap time; fast alphabet scrolling in lists; menu customizability; enhanced contemporary feel and, perhaps, sturdiness; improved microSD card fit; improved EQ

The limited cons:

  – internal memory maxes out at 8GB; limited what’s playing screen information; underlying folder art can make screen readability harder; missing some play-all options; for some users: battery life remains rated at 15 hours; no video capability; greater functionality could be provided to the user (could be handled in future firmware upgrades)

The Clip Zip, the latest in the SanDisk Sansa Clip line, is firmly committed to the Clip line’s proven success: a small, cute and attractive, easy-to-use player with great sound. Not much more can be said about the sound: SanDisk got it right with the original Clip and wisely has not tinkered with that, keeping the Clip line at the top of the audio player field. With one exception: while the Clip Zip’s EQ options sound improved to my ears, they still can sound harsh–as a general matter, best to leave the EQ options alone.

Physically, the Clip Zip is only a trifle larger than its predecessor, in its long dimension. As before, the body is an attractive, sturdy 2-piece plastic shell that angles out, with a large, permanently attached, sturdy plastic clip occupying its back. The one-piece directional pad on the front of the Clip Zip has been reduced in size to the bottom third of the player’s face, with a thin, rectangular select button in its center–some larger-fingered users may have to exercise some care. An inset postage stamp-sized screen occupies the top half of the face of the player. Available in a variety of pleasing colors, my player is an attractive platinum color with a silver-colored directional pad and silver volume rocker and power switches at the left and top sides. The headphone jack remains on the top right side of the player, with a microSD card slot below that, at the bottom; an inserted microSD card now sits totally flush with the player, helping to avoid any inadvertent ejection (although this could make removing the card a trifle more difficult for some). The Clip Zip adopts the micro USB standard for its data and power port at the top left of the player, and comes with a handy short USB/micro USB cable.

In the end, the Clip Zip has a perhaps slightly more contemporary, and sturdy, feel than before, including with its modernized screen graphics and opening and closing exploding screen logo. SanDisk includes with the player a pair of its standard earbud headphones, which many users like–I swap them out for audiophile in-ear phones that complement the player’s well-tuned sound.

Beyond these basics, the Clip Zip, like the earlier Clip+, includes microSD card support, making it possible to increase the player’s storage five-fold from its maximum 8GB internal storage to a total of 40GB, with a 32GB microSD card. Amazing, for something so small; microSD card slots should be standard in all audio players. All content nicely is seamlessly merged in the Clip Zip’s database, or separately can be accessed by folder, as on a computer. The Clip Zip also includes a well-functioning FM radio, with presets and recording capability; new, the display automatically shows the currently-selected radio station’s call letters. As before, the Clip Zip has a recorder; gapless play between files–a necessity for live performance recordings; simple drag-and-drop file transfer capability as well as compatibility with music players and aggregators like Windows Media Player; and ad hoc playlist creation (limited to a current, temporary playlist). The Clip Zip also continues Replaygain support to equalize volume between files, and speed control (slow, normal, fast) for podcasts and audiobooks (but, unfortunately, without pitch adjustment, which would be a welcome addition).

With this pedigree in hand, the Clip Zip then takes off. Firmly inviting iTunes users in, the Clip Zip now is compatible with DRM-free aac files (the iTunes standard), in addition to, as before, mp3, wma, protected wma, ogg vorbis and flac formats; iTunes users no longer need convert their aac files (hurting it in the process) to mp3 format. Reflecting the visual age, the Clip Zip trades in the mostly monochrome, text-oriented small screen of its predecessors for a full (albeit postage stamp-sized), well-functioning color screen with album art display and muted album art backgrounds; where album art is not available, the Clip Zip substitutes varying tasteful designs rather than a dry, static picture (no more pictures of a music note for album art-less files). And then, perhaps listening to its audience’s earlier suggestions, SanDisk adds in the time-of-day to the player’s what’s playing screen (many thanks!); a “sports mode” with timer and lap time; fast alphabetical scrolling for content lists–very welcome for those users with lots of content; and the (limited) ability to customize the Clip Zip’s top menu to show or exclude function categories (Music, Radio, Books, Voice, Card, Sport).

Users of earlier Clip players will find the operation of the Clip Zip familiar, and largely instinctual. Newcomers will adapt in minutes.

All of this is done in an evolutionary manner, still within the Clip lineage; this is not a new player line. Some users will be disappointed by the 8GB internal memory ceiling; 16GB and 32GB models would be appreciated at this point in time–as well as beyond that for us jukebox users. The player’s battery remains rated at 15-hours, typically enough for a full day, but some users would like more; the battery is not user replaceable, given the player’s size (some users would prefer otherwise). And there is no video capability (although this only would be minimally useful, given the small screen–but it still would be welcome).

Seemingly as a result of the adoption of album art display, some informational functionality has been lessened on the Clip Zip’s what’s playing screen: there is no current track number and total tracks information; the current song/file time position is only indicated by a progress bar–there are no elapsed or remaining time indicators; and some of the on-screen information can be a bit harder to see, depending on underlying album art. Also, for some reason, a play-all option, apart from in shuffled mode, has gone missing from most of the playback options–album aficionados will be limited to choosing 1 album at a time or creating playlists. These issues are important for many users–perhaps (hopefully) SanDisk will consider them for future firmware upgrades. (Speaking of which: how about a separate time screen with a clock face, with a few style options?) And the database hindrance from earlier Clip models remains: when files are added to or removed from the microSD card or the card is removed and replaced, the Clip Zip needs to refresh its database, which can take many minutes, depending on the size of the card’s contents, during which the player cannot otherwise be used.

In the end, despite some limitations (some of which could be addressed in the future), the Clip Zip is an attractive successor in the Clip line, with enhanced functionality especially of note for those with a library of aac files and for those wanting album art or timing capabilities.

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