SanDisk's MP3 players have long been the popular alternative to Apple's all-conquering iPod players. Over the years they've managed to couple great value with decent usability and pretty slick design too. And Sansa players such as the venerable e-series and the more recent View have always crammed the features in.
Surprisingly, though, it has taken SanDisk nearly a year to respond to Apple's 'new' squat nano. We had the View months ago and the brilliant Clip, but neither took on the anodised iPod head on. The View was simply too big to rival its pocketability and the Clip too cheap and chirpy. Now that the Fuze is finally here, however, SanDisk at last has a direct competitor to Apple's most popular player.
If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the nano can feel itself well and truly idolised. The Fuze is almost identical in proportion to the nano, complete with short/fat profile. A landscape 1.9in screen sits above a circular control cluster, with even the sync and headphone connections in the same place, ranged along the bottom edge. The Fuze is slightly narrower, width-wise than the nano and a little taller too. It isn't as slim as the Nano, though, at 7.3mm compared to 6.5mm and it still can't quite match the Apple player's sense of style.
The Fuze is still a very nicely designed player, though, with a soft-touch rubberised rear and glossy front (available in more colours than just black, for the style conscious). Arguably the rubbery finish and slightly thicker profile makes it more comfortable to operate one handed, too. It isn't quite as soap-bar slippery as the nano.
Capacities go up to 8GB - the same as the nano - and even battery life is the same, quoted at 24 hours for music and five hours for video, but from here on the two players begin to diverge. The 1.9in screen, for instance, has a much lower resolution (220 x 176 pixels) than the QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) one found on the nano. And, apart from the fact that the quality isn't as good - colours aren't quite as natural and it's much more prone to reflections than the nano's screen - it doesn't support smooth 30fps video, forcing you to convert clips to a lowly, and much less watchable, 15fps.
Format support is limited to MPEG-4 files at native screen resolution too - a far cry from the excellent video support of the View, which supports WMV and MPEG-4 files at more than the native resolution of the screen (640 x 320). However, SanDisk does provide a free video converter tool for download from its website, which works very well and is easy to use.