If you want a full-size MP3 player, there are few reasons not to go with Apple these days. The iPod range offers decent audio quality, an unbeatable interface and superb styling. However, if you want a small, cheap player, there's significant competition for the iPod nano and shuffle. The SanDisk Clip Zip is a new contender, a full colour upgrade to the Clip . It's dinky, packed with features and costs less than half the price of the nano.
What you miss out on is style. The SanDisk Clip Zip is made of plastic and it uses physical buttons rather than a touchscreen. Its key design conceit is similar to the iPod nano, though. The whole of its back is taken up by a giant shirt clip, which makes this MP3 player a sound choice for runners and gym-dwellers. However, if you have no compulsion to work out, the clip doesn't add enough bulk to spoil its fairly petite dimensions.
The SanDisk Clip Zip is 14mm thick and fits comfortably into the palm of you hand. It's small enough to slip into a pocket without constantly reminding you it's there, and at 25g it is also extremely light.
Connectivity and ease of use don't suffer as a result. The front features full playback controls, arranged as a D-pad and central select button, and there are volume control buttons on its left edge. However, the on-body feature that will convince many to buy is the microSD memory card slot, on its right edge.
The 8GB version of the Clip Zip costs as little as £45, but add a £25 32GB card and you can boost its memory to 40GB. None of Apple's audio players feature expandable memory, and its nano range maxes-out with the £130 16GB version. Choose the 4GB version of the Zip and you can choose from six colours, including orange, blue, white and - seen here - black. The 8GB version is only available in grey and black.
Its extra features don't stop there. Up top is a tiny mic, and there's an FM radio with recording, which uses the headphone cable as an antenna. It doesn't have everything, though. There's no Bluetooth - used by most wireless headphones - and zero app support.
Build quality is reasonable but unremarkable. The screen cover is plastic where high-end touchscreen players use glass and the Clip Zip's circuit board is visible through the memory card slot. As it's so light, it'll handle rough treatment, but there are plenty of reminders that in buying this you've scrimped a bit.
The screen is another of these reminders. It's 1.1in across and uses a low 96 x 96 pixel resolution. This offers just half the pixel density of the iPod nano, leaving text and images looking blocky. The Clip Zip screen is basic, but clarity is decent. It's fairly bright and viewing angles are good for a low-end panel. However, this is one area that the iPod nano can claim a clear victory.
If you couldn't care less about having a colour screen, the slightly cheaper Clip is also worth considering. It has a similar feature set, only lacking AAC playback and the full-colour screen. As the improved SanDisk Clip Zip display seems a clear response to Apple's nano, here's a run-down of how the two compare.
As this table clearly shows, the SanDisk Clip Zip offers much better codec support than the restrictive nano. The most important is FLAC, a popular lossless format, and - along with expandable memory - support for it is another compelling reason to choose this player.
Transferring files is simple. It uses MTP (Media Transfer Protocol), which makes its internal memory show up as a media drive when attached to a computer. Once recognised, you can drag and drop files rather than having to use specific software.
There are some irritating niggles to this process, though. Transfer speed is fairly slow, maxing-out at 4.5MB a second, and upon first transferring a bundle of tracks to the player, its software got stuck in its database updating process, requiring a hard reset.
Further research suggested this was a problem with the Clip Zip's approach to ID3 tags, which store information such as artist and genre. Like the so-so build and basic screen, it's a reminder that this is a budget player that requires a little more patience than some more expensive models.