Last, but by no means least is the Sansa Connect wireless Internet MP3 player. Now, this isn’t the first time that a company has tried to launch a Wi-Fi enabled MP3 player, but it is the first time that I’ve felt that it brings something worthwhile to the table.
First up, the design of the Sansa connect is just as sleek and stylish as the Sansa View, if not more so. The rounded casing fits into your hand like a glove – in a kind of reverse metaphor way. Even the stubby Wi-Fi antenna on the top of the device actually looks like a design feature rather than a clumsy afterthought.
At the most basic level, the Sansa Connect is a great looking MP3 player with a superb 2.2in colour screen. Like the Sansa e260, the Connect uses a wheel to navigate all the menus, which makes it extremely intuitive to use – especially if you’ve used an iPod. You can hook the connect up to your PC and drag your music across, just like with the e260, and likewise you can augment the integrated 4GB of storage via a microSD slot.
But it’s not the basic MP3 player features that make the Connect special, it’s the integrated Wi-Fi and the usage model that SanDisk has created for it. SanDisk has teamed up with a company called ZING to create a seamless online experience direct from the Connect player.
The idea is that SanDisk will launch with an online content provider and users of the Sansa Connect will have to subscribe to said service to access the full features of the device. Once you’re signed up to the service, you will have access to all the music on offer – SanDisk told me that the service in question (no one would tell me which one yet) would have around two million songs on offer, and they could all be downloaded direct to the player without the need to ever connect to a PC.
But the best part is that you can create a “friends” list of people you know who also have a Sansa Connect. You can then see exactly what your friends are listening to, and if you’re curious about it, you can just hit the get button and download the same track to your own player. You can also send music to your friends – if you discover a new song or artist, you can just send that track direct to your friend and they can listen to it.
Of course the real beauty is that you’re not actually sending any music anywhere. Because both parties are subscribed to the same service, you’re basically just sending or getting links and then downloading the music from the central server. You can even request “similar” music to what you’re currently listening to, and maybe you’ll discover something new that you otherwise wouldn’t have heard.
The Sansa Connect is set to hit retail shelves in the US in late March with a recommended retail price of $249.99, but unfortunately SanDisk couldn’t confirm when it will hit British shores. SanDisk also couldn’t confirm what the cost of the subscription would be. Assuming that I’ll be able to access the online service from the UK, I will try to get hold of a US review sample sooner rather than later.