funkyfresh MP3 and Portables

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.