Category Archives: sandisk

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Review: Sansa’s iPod alternative

The number of shelves dedicated to non-iPod music players in the average electronics retailer seems to shrink with each passing year, and as I write the top 10 bestselling MP3 players at Amazon.co.uk are all iPods, so it’s good to note that Apple alternatives still exist. As it happens, I’d been using an iPod Nano for a few weeks when Sansa’s latest Clip+ turned up for review; and it makes an interesting comparison.  

Feature-wise, the Sansa falls somewhere between a Nano and a Shuffle. There’s no camera, games or accelerometer on a Sansa Clip, and at 4GB it has half the storage of the least capacious Nano (though see below); but unlike a Shuffle the Clip has a screen, an FM radio, and a voice recorder.

Sansa’s device also has something all the iPods lack: a slot for a Micro SD or SDHC card, which means you can plug in extra capacity up to 16GB.  This port also supports a concept called slotRadio, where you purchase 1000 pre-selected songs on a card, but they are locked to that card. A slotRadio card costs $39.99 in the USA; as far as I can tell they are not available yet in the UK.

In use, the Sansa Clip+ offers none of the tactile pleasure of an iPod; but check out the price. This particular model is £34.99 at Amazon.co.uk; a new-generation Nano is over £100 and even a 4GB Shuffle is over £55.00.

The good news is that the Clip+ sounds very good. That’s just as well, since I doubt many will care about slotRadio (especially in the UK). Expandable storage is a nice feature, though I’d more likely stick in 4GB and forget about it, rather than trying to manage a set of tiny SD cards.

Another strong feature of the Clip+ is that it plays FLAC and Ogg Vorbis as well as MP3, though I’d have liked to see MP4 in there too, for DRM-free purchases from iTunes. I also like being able to attach the Clip+ to a PC via USB and simply copy songs to it, rather than having to use Apple’s bloated iTunes.

Still, I have to admit that the controls are rather fiddly and annoying; I kept clicking back when I needed to click the centre button and sometimes vice versa.

In the end, there are two reasons to get a Clip+. One is because you like having an Apple-free musical life. The other is because you value function over form. The Clip+ does a great job at a lower price than an iPod; but if you like the silky feel and stylish appearance of Apple’s toys, this alternative is not going to win you over.

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Should you swap your laptop hard drive for an SSD?

I’ve just been briefed by Kingston on the merits of its SSD Drives. Sandisk also has a range. Solid-state storage, capacity typically 128GB but larger is possible, lower power consumption (so longer battery life), better reliability (nearly drop-proof), and faster.

Kingston gave a demo showing how an SSD-equipped Toshiba laptop booted more quickly and processed images faster than an allegedly identical model with a conventional hard drive.

The company will be providing bundles that make it easy to switch. You get a USB case into which you insert your new SSD drive. Run the supplied cloning software, unscrew the drive flap on the laptop and swap the drives. Worth doing?

It strikes me as worth considering, but there are a couple of snags. One is cost and capacity – your SSD drive will be more expensive and store less than the old rotating type. That could change – but beware betting against hard drives, they are one of IT’s great survivors.

The other snag is that although SSD drives apparently score better on reliability – what the industry measures as MTBF or Mean Time Before Failure – they have a special bad habit of their own, which is that capacity gradually reduces as they wear.

What happens is that as cells wear out, the clever firmware remaps them to good cells, ensuring that your data is safe, but reducing the capacity.

The one “errm I’ll get back to you on that” moment comes when I ask what might be the normal expectation, in terms of how rapidly capacity reduces with normal usage. It is determined by how many writes you make; clearly it helps to have generous RAM in order to reduce the usage of temporary files.

The man from Kingston also revealed that some SSD drives have hidden reserves. For example, 10% extra capacity might be unavailable for use initially, but swapped in as it is needed. This hides the problem for a while, but does not cure it.

Still, you would think that SSD will win out in the end, as capacity improves and cost comes down. Further, if your main concern is how long the battery lasts on your train journeys and transatlantic flights, SSD is definitely worth a look. Many netbooks come with SSD as standard – the first device I had which uses them was an Asus Eee PC.