Rich Warren: An Apple alternative? OK, I'll bite

Rich Warren: An Apple alternative? OK, I'll bite

Today we compare Apples and oranges, or SanDisks, as the case may be.

Apple owns the portable headphone music player market, the market pioneered by Sony more than 30 years ago. That market now occupies a tiny niche, because most people use their smartphones or tablets to enjoy music on the go. Many no longer even store the music on their personal device but stream it from the cloud.

Apple dominates what remains of the portable music player market with its iconic iPods, from the $50 iPod Shuffle to the $300 iPod Touch, with the most popular $150 iPod Nano and the dinosaur $250 iPod classic in between.

Last summer, in a fit of rebellion, I purchased the SanDisk Sansa Clip player that can be found on Amazon for as little as $35 for the 4 GB model. SanDisk also markets an 8 GB model for about $20 more.

The iPod Shuffle stores a trifling 2 GB of data. When the Sansa arrived I saw the sticker on it that implied it must be used with the online music service Rhapsody and put it aside.

I was trying to escape the need for relying on an online service or proprietary software to load my music player.

Apple ties you tightly to iTunes with the iPod, and if you rely on the Windows version of the iTunes software, loading the iPod becomes an irritating ritual.

Recently, I uncovered the matchbook-sized Sansa and plugged it into the PC via the USB cable.

First, it amazed me that the battery remained fully charged after nine months without use.

The iPod battery drains after a few months of disuse, since the unit never fully powers down.

Then I discovered to my joy that the Sansa permitted easy drag and drop loading of music files from my PC. No muss, no fuss, no special software. It even plays full, uncompressed .WAV files along with just about every compressed file in the universe including MP3, WMA, AAC among others.

The tiny brilliant blue Sansa display is very easy to read. You can custom adjust many facets of the Sansa's operation through a series of easy-to-read and set menus. It also includes a decent FM radio with 40 station presets. The Sansa contains an audio equalizer to adjust the tonal balance, with a number of presets as well for various types of music.

A microSD card slot permits adding dozens of hours of music beyond the internal storage capacity. As is, depending on the MP3 compression you choose and the length of the songs you store, the 4 GB model stores about 1000 songs and the 8 GB model doubles that.

The fidelity satisfies through good headphones, but the Sansa makes cheap headphones sound cheap. Also, it's best to load music recorded at a high level to hear sufficient volume from the Sansa.

What can you expect from an audio amplifier smaller than a raisin?

The non-replaceable battery lasts about a dozen hours, depending upon settings and music levels. Again, considering the Sansa's size and the fact that it weighs less than an ounce, that's impressive.

Overall, if you want to escape the Apple universe, the SanDisk Sansa Clip offers a great alternative and value. Just be careful not to lose it.

Mail bag. A reader discovered another service in Champaign that transfers old media to new media. "I did find PM Productions on Springfield & Prospect in the Illini Bldg. He did a nice job of burning and labeling a CD with an mp3 file from my old cassette and charged me $12.50 Not too bad ... "

Considering the labor involved, $12.50 is a reasonable price.

Storm has been weathered. For those of you addicted to The Weather Channel and satellite TV, your DirecTV drought ended April 9. After being dropped Jan. 13, DirecTV and The Weather Channel finally reached a new agreement this month.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Music, Technology

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