Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sansa Clip+

I mentioned not too long ago that I wanted an SDHC player, and I essentially settled on the Sansa Clip+ 2GB. I got it in the mail today, and I'm already impressed.

First off, let me yell out the price tag. I snagged it off Amazon for $32, but thanks to a $5 giftcard I had saved via Swagbucks, I got it at a reasonable $27. The alternative I was looking at was the Sansa c240; the reason I possibly was going to buy the c240 was because it was stable with Rockbox, it had a better screen, and it was about $10 cheaper; the reason I didn't buy it was because I've seen a video with the Clip+ running Rockbox, I wasn't going to use the screen for anything like watching videos since I have an iPhone with movies on it, and the c240 was a tad bit bigger and had a proprietary connector instead of miniUSB.

First Impressions:
It's small. No, seriously. I watched videos, read reviews, and I was still surprised to find how small it is. It's the size of two quarters sitting side by side. I was a bit concerned because its clip was not removable like the original Clip, but now that I have it at hand, I'm ok with that. The clip is very flat and blends with the device wonderfully, and really doesn't add that much thinkness to this micro device; even with the clip, it's still thinner than a dime. It feels very well built and everything about this player looks and feels phenomenal from an appearance perspective.

Now for the operations. I immediately grabbed my microSDHC card which already had music on it and plugged it in. Yes, it does take about a minute or two to update the database. But as long as you're not switching out microSDHC cards alot -and I mean alot, where you are unable to wait 60-120 seconds- it really shouldn't be that big a deal.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised with the screen. It's very vibrant and not poor quality at all, even though it's just OLED. You transition between menu's very smoothly, as it has an animation much like the iPod. The screen itself is actually pretty small, leaving only room for 4 rows, one of which is the title bar that has where you are in the menu and the battery. [I have a feeling Sansa could've worked it around to squeeze in one more row, but I'm really not complaining. Though it would be nice to have the Album show in addition to the Artist and Song in the Now Playing screen.]

Everything's really well layed out in terms of menus. Under Music, you have the choice of Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, and Playlists. (And several more like Genres and AudioBooks.) Any song that's on the microSDHC has a little SD icon next to it, which is welcome, but it also incorporates those songs into your library so you don't have to switch; so if I have a Switchfoot song on the internal and another on the microSDHC, both will show up under "Switchfoot" in the Artists section.

The settings are very clear and straightforward; you have music options like Repeat, Shuffle, and EQ (even a 5 band custom), you have Audiobook options I don't really care about, and System settings like Backlight, Power Saver, Sleep, Brightness, Volume, and even a Clock.

You can record Voice Memos, listen to them, and delete them right on the Clip+. The mic is not too shabby a quality, hidden slightly on the back near the top of the clip. The radio is a tad crude, but fairly effective. You seek through the channels and click "Add Preset" on the frequencies you like, and then you can cycle through those just by clicking the center button. There's no real way to see a list of the frequencies that are your presets, but there is a * next to it if it is a preset.

The Home button is actually incredibly useful; clicking it once takes you to the top menu, double clicking it takes you to the Now Playing, and holding it for a second provides a wonderful lock. There's volume buttons on the side which work well and make it easy to quickly adjust the volume.

This little device even surprised me in terms of functionality. It lets you rate songs, create an On-to-go playlist, and even has a visualizer....thing. Overall, I'm just in love. Seriously, if you don't mind the small size and screen and just want a basic music player, this thing blows an iPod out of the water; half the price of a shuffle, more disk space (optionally), and even more functionality.

Music Managing
Now that my drooling review is over, let me discuss how I'm going to use it. I said before that I wanted to use it for in my car and for work. The reason I bought one with so limited internal memory is because I planned to mainly use the microSDHC for memory and then store a few things on the internal, and since microSDHC is expandable up to 32GB (the memory of my iPhone and late iPod Touch, but even more since no space will be used for firmware), I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that all the space I ever need will be there if I need it.

So my plan is to put my work playlist from iTunes on the internal and my new music/car music on the SDHC. There's a few difficulties with this plan, since first off, the playlist is from iTunes which only syncs iDevices. Secondly, I want to sync to two places, and most programs are not that capable. I'm going to use a program called MusicBee for several reasons, mostly because I love it and think it's amazing, but also because it's so simple and straightforward. So here's my plan.

The microSDHC was definitely the easier task even though I tackled it second. I set up the device to work in MSC (though now that I think about it, MTP would work as well) and I set up the device which was known as the I:\ drive. Everything was extremely simple and I basically set the right folders, checked "music library" under the Auto-sync tab, and was set.

I need a way to import only my Work playlist from iTunes and while programs like Songbird and even MusicBee have iTunes Import options, it will import the entire library, which I don't want or need. So in order to snag just the Work playlist, I looked at several options; one of which was using a program called iTunes Sync to sync just that playlist to the internal memory. The program itself worked great and I was fine with using it, except for the fact that I also needed a way to create a playlist on the device for Work, ie, all of the files on the internal memory. Plus, I would end out having to run two programs, iTune Sync and MusicBee, which I didn't like.

So I took another approach. I couldn't simply add the Work playlist to my MusicBee library because the playlist depended on iTunes and was constantly changing. I tried a really weird trick where MusicBee would essentially sync the files to the same place and then create a playlist, but to no avail. Then I realized that an Auto Playlist was not the answer, a simple M3U was. MusicBee keeps a folder filled with all the Playlists and all I needed to do was get an M3U of the Work playlist into that folder and MusicBee will detect it when it starts. Plus, the playlist here doesn't even have to be in your MusicBee library, so I wouldn't even have to mix my Car playlist and my Work playlist inside MusicBee.

iTunes itself allows you to export a playlist as M3U, but it would be very annoying to have to open iTunes and manually export the M3U to that folder every time I wanted to launch MusicBee. Fortunately, I already knew about a program called iTunes Export that has a command line version that allows you to export iTunes playlists without even touching iTunes. So all I had to do is write a small batch/autohotkey file to run that program before running MusicBee, and presto, we have ignition.

To put it simply, iTunes exports an a Work M3U which MusicBee syncs to the internal memory, then MusicBee syncs its entire library to the microSDHC. So smooth.

But one more quick note. Playlists. Playlists are freaking confusing, and yes, I did not read the manual for the Clip+, but it's still very confusing.
  • First you need to realize that the playlist needs to be formatted correctly; instead of just linking to the files one after another, you need a bunch of "#EXTINF" and whatnot thrown in there.
  • Second, you need to realize that the Clip+ interprets playlists relative to the M3U's location on the disc, not the root.
  • Lastly, the file paths in the M3U are not supposed to start with a "/", which is the default for MusicBee.
Combing those three let you create playlists anywhere on the disc. You can even use the ".." to symbolize "up one directory."

It took a hell of a lot longer than I expected, but I'm happy that I stumbled on such an elegant answer, and that I am able to use MusicBee, my new favorite music library freeware.

I'm excited to use my Clip+. It's a nice little device, and I really hope it serves me well.

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