The Fuze can’t match the nano in terms of video features, then, so how does it fare elsewhere? First up, though I like SanDisk’s interface, I have to admit that Apple’s still has the edge. The nano boasts a search facility and that fancy coverflow artwork browsing, while the Fuze’s is far more perfunctory. That said, it’s still extremely effective and when coupled with the Fuze’s excellent mechanical clickwheel – debuted on the View – it makes the Fuze a delight to use.
The Fuze steadily improves with the inclusion of an FM tuner – one that works pretty well too – and memory expansion in the shape of a microSD card slot. The nano boasts neither feature. The Fuze also has an external mic so you can turn it into a dictaphone or basic podcast recorder, and one more area where the Fuze has the nano beat is in its flexibility. It’s compatible with both MSC and MTP methods of file transfer, so you can use it with Windows Media Player to transfer DRM WMA tracks, or you can simply drag unprotected tracks and videos straight to the relevant locations if you prefer.
But the real challenge for the Fuze is in music playback, and it has a lot to live up to here. Its bigger brother, the View, disappointed when it came to audio format support. It failed to include support for lossless formats such as Flac, Apple Lossless and WMA Lossless, and the Fuze is the same. You can play back MP3 and WMA at bitrates up to 320Kb/sec plus Audible’s audio book format, but not AAC files as you can with the View, and there’s no support for Ogg Vorbis either (Ed. – A firmware update has now added official support for Flac and Ogg on the Clip and Fuze.)
The View, too, wasn’t the last word in sound quality, and again the Fuze offers little redress. I plugged in my usual reference headphones – a pair of Grado SR325is to ensure there was no quality bottleneck and fired up Radiohead’s ”Hail To The Thief” to see how the player could deal with the band’s complex, swirling guitars and convoluted melodies. Detail was as impressive as it was with the View – every guitar riff had the aggressive, biting edge it was meant to have and the music leapt right out of the phones in a way it didn’t with the nano.
But as with the View, the rest of the spectrum isn’t quite as accomplished: the mid and bass notes aren’t warm enough, so that clarity and edge tends to overwhelm the rest of the music and make it sound harsh. To be fair, the nano doesn’t fair well with the thunderous end to ”Stand Up Sit Down” – its mid and bass is a little too warm, but the Creative Zen and Sony NWZ-A829 produced a more powerful sound with superior balance. A blast of metal underlines this – the opening to Metallica’s ”The Struggle Within” is strident and scratchy rather than crunchy and full-bodied – the nano beats it here with a much more rounded performance.