SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip Review

The SanDisk Clip Zip is a nice update to the popular Clip line of MP3 players.  It sounds great and weighs almost nothing.  It’s been our preferred player for taking on runs for several years now.  It’s hard to beat this player for under $50.

The Clip Zip adds support for AAC files so your non-DRM iTunes collection will drag and drop to the player just fine. It also includes a color screen. It can be hard to see in direct sunlight but works fine indoors.  It's good for quickly identifying tracks with album art but not much else. The buttons are very intuitive and separated a little more for ease of use.  The back button is elevated which helps it stand out more than previous designs and makes navigation very easy. You won't get lost while navigating menus on this player.  Funkyfresh did a series of videos with SanDisk for the launch of this product and everyone really liked the portabilty and ease of use.  The fact that you can can operate the player without looking at it was a  big plus for people on the go, especially those on bikes that really need to keep their eyes on the road and cannot be fumbling wth a touch screen.

The player wasn't perfect out of the box.  We noticed some strange white noise occasionally between tracks and SanDisk's own slotRadio cards caused some strange behavior.  However, after downloading the latest firmware the Clip Zip experience improved dramatically and everyone worked as expected.  So if you do pick one of these up be sure to download the latest frimware from SanDisk on the product page here. You can check out our videos too.

Mechanically, SanDisk opted for the micro USB connector, so you can use your smart phone charger to juice up the Clip Zip, which is very convenient.

The previous Clip already offered ridiculous value in a small player and that continues with the Clip Zip. The Clip Zip adds a sport timer, color screen, AAC file support (non DRM) and should continue to be the workout player of choice for anyone that finds their smart phone or other player too heavy or cumbersome to deal with while on the go. We like it in orange!

Visit SanDisk for more information.

Spotify Review: Still the Best Music Service on the Planet but Lame US Rollout

When we reviewed the European version of Spotify back in October of 2009 we were blown away by the speed and simple design of the service. However, we figured by the time Spotify secured its licenses with the record labels and publishers in this region of the world, Rhapsody, MOG and others would improve the performance of their platforms.

Well, here we are nearly 2 years later and Spotify is still the most responsive and “live” feeling music service on the planet. It’s lightning quick, lightweight and simply addictive to use. The near instant response time is what makes it so fun. Other services are just too pokey and don’t provide that instant gratification that Spotify does.

Music services have met with limited success partly because people don't like monthly fees and partly because most of them just aren't very good. The user experience has suffered at the hands of taxonomy or music snobbery. Spotify changes all that. We literally laugh and smile when using this service.

Nothing’s perfect. In spite of Spotify’s efforts, there’s still quite a bit of content missing from its catalog of cleared tracks. But every music service has these challenges. Negotiating rights with Sony, Universal and Warner and artists is no easy task not to mention the smaller labels and myriad publishers. For the most part the catalog is pretty solid.

The lame "request an invite" rollout for the free version is very irritating. Really? You're just so inundated with requests Spotify that your system just can't keep up with demand? Yet, the umlimited and premium versions are open for business. Don't tout your free service and then artificially delay access to it or get ready for a class action lawsuit. This is America afterall, you're not Google, and paying for music just isn't happening much these days.

How the platform scales is critical. Spotify needs to grow significantly to survive while providing a consistent level of service. Clearly its offering is resonating within the industry because the new MOG, currently in beta, looks strikingly similar.

if Spotify does not survive, get acquired or merge with some other service we can probably officially call the subscription/ad based/ on demand music model dead.

Visit Spotify to check it out. It’s free with ads and $5 for the first tier of service.

Amazon Cloud Music Player for Droid Review

The Amazon Cloud Player is a nice idea but in our early testing is very slow and locks up on the Droid. After installing the Cloud Music Player, an Adobe AIR App, on our PC it was easy to upload a catalog of songs. We grabbed about 600 tracks, hit upload and walked away from the PC. These are all songs that we own on CDs that were ripped to MP3s at 256kbps.

We immediately fired up the Motorola DroidX to test the app. While the app launched quickly and we instantly were able to see our collection of music, getting anything to play was far from elegant. It started out okay with instant access to one song but subsequent tracks caused the app to lockup or simply show a spinning progress cog.

We tried it with both WiFi and 3G connections but to no avail. Concerned the connection might be spotty we fired up both Pandora and Mog and both provided instant access to multiple tracks. Next, we restarted the DroidX and tried the Amazon Cloud app fresh and got the same results. It barely worked and was only able to play a couple of tracks before it simply stopped responding. From a PC it worked fine but we're more interested in the smartphone app.

It’s nice to have 5BG or space online and an extra 20GB or whatever Amazon is offering as a reward for purchasing an MP3 album; however it gets gobbled up quickly. And when it comes to our own collection we really only listen to mixes we've made for working out or parties. Five GBs is a little over 1000 128kbps tracks. That's not a lot of music and frankly we'd rather listen to Pandora and Mog for music discovery and fast access to countless numbers of tracks. So the value prop here is marginal.

We buy a lot of stuff from Amazon and find it one of the best shopping experiences around, but this cloud music experience was very disappointing. Sure you could use the space for other stuff but in the age of 1TB drives how many people want to choose 5GB, 20GB or even 100GB of pictures that need to be backed up. Just back it all up and don’t bother me with the numbers. Plus we're not clear on what the monthly charges will be over time and based on what we've seen from other cloud providers it will probably change over time.

The issue is simple.  What consumers want and what’s a sustainable product are very different things. Mozy, Carbonite and others simply can’t do unlimited everything and make money. Amazon's offering right now isn't elegant and it's too small.  While the free 5GBs is nice we're simply rather stream channels from Pandora and be surprised with new tracks or seek out new tracks on Mog. It's a better experience.  Sure it's nice to "rediscover" tracks we own and make playlists and all that but it gets old quickly.

Visit Amazon for more information and to test the cloud offering for yourself.  As a back up solution it's cool for small amounts of data but as a music player Amazon has some work to do.

TuneWiki: The Best Music App On The Planet

Whenever my family gets together inevitably the iPhones and Droids come out and we start sharing our latest app discoveries. Angry Birds and all the other favorites are the first out of the gate and then we start trying to unveil something no one has seen yet. I’m amazed that TuneWiki often catches people by surprise. Maybe I’m just more of a music freak than most folks but this is the best music app on the planet and it still feels largely undiscovered.

This past summer I showed it to my 16 year old cousin and she almost passed out. She’s a music lover and is singing all the time, often the wrong lyrics. So for her sake and ours we  fired up TuneWiki. Instantly she had all the lyrics to her music on her iPod streaming in real time. She was speechless and started texting all her friends about the “most amazing app ever.”

The lyrics are just one component of this super funkyfresh app  The real time music maps and social networking component are also really cool.  If you love music and want to know what's hot anywhere around the globe there's no better way to get real time info than with TuneWiki.

TuneWiki is like another Groupon. It has rabid fans but is still in its nascent stage. Don’t be surprised if this awesome little company gets gobbled up by Google or some other company before the masses even know about it.

In the meantime, do yourself a solid and grab TuneWiki for your Droid or iPhone now.

Best MP3 Player for Working Out + Free Music

This is a screaming deal going on now at Best Buy. Perfect for the back to school crowd that needs a workout player. Grab a free slotRadio card while you're at it.  We like the UCLA blue color the best. Disclaimer: funkyfresh worked with SanDisk on the slotRadio content.

SanDisk Clip+ Review

We were expecting good things from this updated version of SanDisk’s popular Clip and the Sansa Clip+ delivers. The Sansa Clip has been one of the most popular MP3 players on the planet. It sounds great, is easy to use and is very gym friendly due to its small size and built in clip.

Now the Clip+ comes along and is a subtle yet worthy successor to the original for one simple reason, a microSD slot. The Clip already offers ridiculous value in a small player. It supports FLAC, various MP3 codecs including Vorbis, Audible Files, Rhapsody and other services and is the first Windows 7 certified MP3 player, not that we really care since dragging and dropping to this player is about as simple as it gets.

Now, with the microSD slot the Clip+ has it all. Users can purchase complete catalogs of music with slotRadio cards or load up a blank card with all their favorites. No other portable MP3 player offers so much in such a small footprint. Into ripping your CD collection in FLAC for the best possible sound? Done. Dig subscriptions services like Rhapsody? No problem. Need your Audible fix? Cool. Low on time and want to load 1000 songs Billboard charting songs instantly? Do it.

The Clip+ has a few updates that are worth mentioning. First the clip itself is a better design and could not be forcibly removed without breaking it. Secondly, the button layout is cleaner and the hold switch is no longer a switch. Simply press and hold the home button and the device locks or unlocks. The power button is a simple button as well. The updated design is also a bit lighter than the original. At first it almost feels too light. But take it jogging a few times and you quickly appreciate the weightlessness.

To appreciate the sound of the Clip+ it’s important to use decent headphones. We recommend the Philips behind the neck sports headphones as a good starting point. Even at $15 from Target these are a big improvement over what comes in the box. The Clip+ can also drive more expensive Bose and Sony phones with aplomb. MP3 files at 256 or 320kbps really show off the sound capabilities of this little wonder. Pumping FLAC files through quality cans is simply astounding on the Clip+. We’re pumping “I Got a Feeling” from the Black Eyed Peas as we're writing this review.

We got a feeling the new Clip+ from SanDisk starting at $39 is going to make a lot of people happy. It’s a feel good player with all the right features and a price to make anyone smile.

Visit SanDisk for more information.

Sony Headphones for Kids

If you need headphones for the kids this fall you may want to consider a style with volume limiting. This way the little tikes won't be able to blow their eardrums out no matter how high they crank the volume.

These Sony headphones for kids don't sound that good but are sized to fit smaller noggins and are fine for plugging into a PC for computer class. We haven't seen many options when it comes to basic headphones for kids with volume limiting so these are worth considering if you can find them. Best Buy usually stocks them for about $15.

Visit Sony for more information.

SanDisk slotRadio Player Review: An Insider's Take

Many of the folks who write for funkyfresh work in the technology industry. Occasionally we like to give you an insider’s look at the development of new and innovative products.

SanDisk just launched its new slotRadio player that comes preloaded with 1000 songs in multiple genres of music. This thing is an unbelievable value. We know this because we actually worked on the product. So full disclosure, this is not meant to be a third party review. However, this product is so cool and so much fun to use we wanted to give you the straight dope because we’ve seen some inaccurate information circulating about slotRadio. This truly is a product you have to experience to appreciate.  Look for promotional deals.

We found this deal on SlickDeals.  Not sure how long it's going to last.  But check it out and save yourself $30 on the slotRadio bundle.

Let’s start with the music. Every slotRadio card comes with 1000 pre-loaded songs in playlists ready to go right out of the box. Imagine 40 cassettes stacked on top one another or 50 CDs all packed into a microSD card that’s paper thin about the size of your pinky finger. It’s truly like science fiction. Pop the card in the player and you’re playing music in about 5 seconds. There is no setup, computers, subscriptions, fees…none of that.

So is the music any good? Yes, it’s actually incredible. Anyone who buys a slotRadio player or card will simply be blown away by the quality of the music. SanDisk worked with Billboard to identify the top selling artists of the last 50 years and worked with music experts to design the playlists on the slotRadio cards. Funkyfresh worked extensively on many of the slotRadio playlists and we can assure you SanDisk is committed to making slotRadio cards that music freaks and the masses will both enjoy.

The sound quality of the slotRadio player is very good, especially with headphones that showcase just how good the sound is. We’ve been using our Sony MDR-7500s and are very impressed with what this little die cast aluminum wonder can dish out.

The way SanDisk locks the music to the card allows the cards to be played in any compatible slotRadio player. The music is not locked to the device. This means friends and family can freely share cards without the need to synchronize devices or use computers in any way. If you’ve ever been frustrated by a music service that requires synchronizing your music player once a month with the service you’ll certainly appreciate how freeing this can be.

My niece recently formatted her MP3 player by accident, erasing about 2 gigs worth of music I loaded for her. My sister and her husband love music but just can’t be bothered with downloading and transferring music. I can’t wait to get my niece a slotRadio player because I no longer have to be her personal curator of music and tech support guy. I’m sure a lot of music geeks will appreciate this. And if they still want to make mixes or whatever they can do that on a blank microSD card and just mail that out. No need to have the device in order to load it.

By they way, if you already have a Sansa Fuze from Sandisk you can upgrade the firmware to play slotRadio cards. You don't need to buy the slotRadio player. Plus, the Fuze will display the album art of every track. Pretty cool. Sandisk has been talking of replicating the slotRadio experience on cell phones too.  Here's the link to the support page to download the updater.

So how do they do it? Well, SanDisk is probably the only company that could pull it off. The company has a ridiculous number of patents related to Flash memory technology, some 1500 plus in the US alone, and has packed quite a bit of that IP into slotRadio. The beauty is all of this technology is completely transparent to the end user. Just turn it on and go. There are no menus, no scroll wheels and no superfluous features with slotRadio. There are dedicated buttons for changing channels, skipping songs, adjusting the volume and switching between FM radio and the slotRadio card. Yes, slotRadio has a built in tuner with RDS. It couldn’t be easier. It's all about music made simple.  It's fun and it works.

Visit SanDisk for more information about slotRadio.

MP3 and Wireless FM Transmitter for Car

This MP3 player wireless FM transmitter combo gadget allows you to listen to MP3s on an SD card or USB adapter. The chipset supports up to 320 kbps and is compatible with slotMusic cards using the adapter that comes with the cards or a microSD to SD converter.

There are a variety of these little gadgets available, mostly from online outlets. We like this one. It couldn’t be easier to use and the sound was very good with no interference on the lower end of the FM dial. It’s a bare bones unit that’s cheap but still works.

If you don’t have an auxiliary input on your stereo head unit in your vehicle than this is a good option. It’s much better than using a cassette adapter with a cord. Not to mention this adapter has the MP3 player built in. This is truly all you need to access fast libraries of MP3 music in your vehicle.

The unit plugs into the cigarette lighter socket and plays your music through the car's FM stereo. The unit accepts both SD and SD HC, high capacity, memory cards. We used it with slotMusic cards from SanDisk and it worked seamlessly. You can also connect a portable player you have with the audio-in jack. However, we think that kind of defeats the purpose of have an all-in-one unit like this.

Let’s say you pick this unit up for $15 and buy an SD HC card for another $10. You’re talking about at least a 4GB MP3 player for $25. It’s easy to take this for granted but that’s really incredible.

Anyway, if you’ve been looking for a really simple and cheap way to play MP3s in your car these little gadgets are worth a look. We were really impressed at how good this little sucker sounded. You do have to adjust the volume and tweak the settings for the best sound but it’s no big deal and at this price well worth the effort.

Features include:  Blue backlit LCD screen, SD and SDHC ready, audio in jack, used 12V cigarette lighter, 206 selectable stations, included remote (very cheap but works), Swivel design makes it easier to read.

Visit Amazon for more information about wireless MP3 accessories. This is an OEM unit so we don’t have a brand name but you'll recognize this unit by the buttons and swivel base.

Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 Review

The Orbit MP3 from Altec Lansing is one of the best sounding compact speakers you can buy for under $40. It’s much, much better than the previous Orbit design in both sound quality and ease of use. Anyone looking for an ultra-compact design that doesn’t want to sacrifice too much sonic goodness will be very happy with the Orbit MP3.

Altec Lansing made a very important design change to the power button. Previously it was easy to accidentally leave the speaker on and run down the batteries. Now the power is a push button that illuminates. It’s mush easier to use and won’t waste batteries like the old design. We forgave the previous approach because the previous Orbit was still a decent value but we wouldn’t even consider the old design at half the price of the latest iteration.

The sound quality of the new Orbit MP3 benefits from increased frequency response, dynamics and overall db level. It’s plenty for a kid’s party at the park, music at the office or tunes in the garage. Altec Lansing is using a much better transducer in this Orbit than the previous unit. It’s certainly worth the slight bump in price at retail.

Visit Altec Lansing for more information about the Orbit MP3.

Sansa 8GB Clip Review

The Sansa Clip from SanDisk is one of the best sounding MP3 players you can buy and the 8GB model is a flat out bargain. The player is very light, includes a handy clip and is very easy to use. The Clip features support for MP3, WMA, Audible, FLAC and even DRM files if you’re still messing around with those.

The included headphones are okay but simply don’t do the Clip justice. We used both Sony MDR-7506 cans and Philips behind the ear workout phones. The Clip was able to drive both of these loud and clear. FLAC sounds amazing on this player and with 8GBs of space it’s more reasonable to use this lossless codec which takes up roughly half the space of a PCM WAV file.

FM reception is okay if you’re outside and line of sight is good. It’s also dependant on the length of the headphone cable attached to the Clip. Nice in a pinch but why use a player that sounds this good with mediocre radio broadcast?

Loading the Clip is simple, just drag and drop to the any folder on the device. It can also be synched if you have a Rhapsody subscription. Files can easily be deleted on the go. This is cool if you get sick of a song and simply want it off your player. With 8GBs of space you can hold 2000 songs at 128kbps. However, with this player we’d recommend going with at least 256kbps encoding. Better yet, treat yourself with roughly 22 CDs worth of space and encode in FLAC!

SanDisk has been making the Clip for a while now and we hope they don’t have any plans to phase it out any time soon. It’s an incredible value with just the right features and great sound. Falling memory prices while not good for SanDisk are great for the consumer. Getting an 8GB player that sounds this good for under $100 is an easy decision.

Visit Sansa for more information on the Clip.

Philips Behind the Ear Sports Headphones Review

Every now and then you can find a decent set of headphones bundled with an MP3 player for special promotions but most of the time the units that come in the package are of poor quality. Companies feel compelled to include the headphones in the package but anyone who cares about quality quickly goes out and buys a new set.

The Philips behind the ear sports headphones are a really great set of headphones for running and working out. They’re lightweight, comfortable and sound great. We like the behind the ear design and found we could wear these phones for extended periods of time without discomfort. We used both an iPod and a Sansa Clip with these headphones with good results. When pushed, the headphones produced loud, clean, near full frequency response with minimal distortion.

Sony Wireless Digital Music Streamer Review

The Sony Wireless Digital Music Streamer model VGF-WA1/W is a nice looking unit that we had big expectations for. Sorry to say this is one of the least consumer friendly devices we have ever encountered.

Our funkyfresh reviewer works at a major Silicon Valley company in product design. He loved the unit out of the box but quickly lost his patience after an hour of fiddling with settings and trying to get it to work.

Sansa slotMusic Player Review

SanDisk released its slotMusic Player under the Sansa brand. It’s a $20 MP3 / WMA player that plays slotMusic cards or basically any microSD card loaded with music. With 8GB microSD cards selling for under $20 this could be the best value on the market for an 8GB player. Bundles by music artists will also sell with a full release included with the player for $35.

Made from die cast aluminum, the slotMusic player feels more expensive than it is. It has a two piece design that makes it very easy to change the battery, a standard AAA. The buttons are big and cover the basics; play, pause, forward, backward, volume up and down. That’s it. No display.

Sound quality is actually quite good. We hooked it up to a Mackie Mixer and played it through a Hafler amp and some JBL studio monitors. We thought it was pretty impressive for a $20 player.

SanDisk Fuze Review

The Fuze is a great little iPod nano killer from SanDisk's Sansa brand. It's small but feels substantial in the hand with a portable form factor that's nearly perfect. It's a music player first but pretty decent MPEG 4 player as well. The colors and contrast are actually pretty good on its small QCIF screen and more than adequate in a pinch. However, the Fuze is primarity a music player.

The Fuze features a 1.9-inch display, FM tuner, built-in microphone for voice recording, 24 hour battery life and microSD slot. The 4GB model is very competitively priced at $99. We expect to see these in a variety of colors.

The sound quality is excellent on the Fuze. Of course, you'll need a decent set of headphones. SanDisk, like everyone else, bundles basic in ear headphones with the Fuze. We plugged in our Sony 7506s and were very impressed with the quality of the sound.

Oakley THUMP 2 Music Sun Glasses Review

Oakley's THUMP 2 combines stylish glasses with 1 gig of flash for playing music files. The unique design includes in-ear transducers as part of the frame. The speaker mounts can be adjusted in a variety of ways for a semi-custom fit.

We tested the THUMP 2 glasses while mountain biking in the valley foothills. The frames are substantial and fairly heavy. The lenses are killer polarized lenses that are very easy on the eyes. However the extra heft necessary for integrating the MP3 player makes them a bit cumbersome. We don't agree with the 'all day comfort' claim but there plenty comfy for a long bike ride not to mention the frames are stylish and do their primary job, filtering out the harmful rays of the sun, very well.