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Review: Sansa Connect surpasses iPod and Zune -- for now

It makes solid use of Wi-Fi connection to acquire media

By David Haskin
April 11, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SanDisk Corp.'s Sansa Connect Wi-Fi-enabled media player is the first significant rethinking of portable media players -- and how we acquire digital media -- since Apple Inc.'s introduction of the iPod and the iTunes online media store several years ago.

In many ways, the 4GB $249 Sansa Connect surpasses the iPod. For one thing, its bright, simple interface is, arguably, more engaging than the iPod's. But its most notable capability is built-in Wi-Fi, which is missing, so far, in Apple's offerings.

Like the iPod is tied to the iTunes store, Sansa Connect is tied to a specific online media provider, and in this case it's Yahoo Inc.'s digital music and image service. Yahoo's services are tightly integrated into the Connect so that, combined with the built-in Wi-Fi, you can easily download music from the Internet, listen to Internet radio and view digital images stored online.

Sansa Connect
Sansa Connect
In other words, the Sansa Connect dramatically increases what you can do with your media player and, for the first time, highlights the potential of subscription music services.

This being a first version of a new product, there are a few missing pieces, but they're mostly the type of omissions you notice only in a device so well designed that it leaves you begging for more. Overall, the Sansa Connect may well change what you expect from portable media players. It's that good.

The benefits of being connected

Currently, the most well-known Wi-Fi-enabled media player is Microsoft Corp.'s Zune, but that device's wireless capabilities are stunted compared to the Sansa Connect. For one thing, a Zune can only connect with other nearby Zunes, and users can use the wireless capabilities only to temporarily share music.

In contrast, the Sansa Connect connects directly to Yahoo's Internet-based music and image services. If you subscribe to Yahoo Music Unlimited, once you're connected, you can find and download individual tracks and albums. You also can view photos stored on Yahoo's Flickr service. And it's a rush listening to streaming Internet radio offered by Yahoo's LaunchCast radio, which offers about 150 streaming stations, making SanDisk's omission of an FM radio seem like a logical choice.

While you must pay $15 a month to download music, streaming audio doesn't require a paid subscription. However, the streaming audio is so well integrated into the Sansa Connect that you may be tempted to subscribe. That's because, if you hear a song you like and you belong to the music service, you can immediately download it and listen to it as often as you want.

Sansa Connect also does music sharing far better than Zune. With Zune, you connect only to other Zune users who are near enough to connect directly via Wi-Fi. In contrast, Sansa Connect uses Yahoo Messenger to look for friends who are connected anywhere using a laptop or desktop computer or another Sansa Connect. You then can see what music they are listening to and download -- from Yahoo -- songs they recommend. Once downloaded, you can listen to the music all you want. Zune only allows three plays before you must purchase a song.

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