Sansa Clip a Low Cost Alternative to iPods for Mac Users
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Low
July 1 2008 Zis Mac
recently had a bit of a quandary - I wanted to send an MP3 player to a
music-deprived friend. I wanted it to work with both Windows and Macs.
And I wanted it to cost under $100.
iPod shuffle (C$55-$75) wasn't going to do the trick; shuffle mode is a
fun way to randomly bring up tunes, like a radio station that only
programs songs that you like. But I wanted my friend to have the option
of shuffle mode when he wanted it - and of being able to play specific
albums, artists, or songs when he wanted that too. And I wanted him to
be able to tell what song was playing. You can't do that on an iPod
The iPod nano (C$159-209) would do everything I
wanted except fit in my budget. In fact, unless I was prepared to buy a
secondhand iPod, none of Apple's models would fit my needs.
MP3 Players for Macs
MP3 player manufacturers don't exactly spend a lot of time marketing
their products to Mac owners - they've pretty much concluded that if
you own a Mac and are shopping for a music player, you're probably
going to buy an iPod. And if you plug many of these models into your
Mac - like Microsoft's Zune or any of Creative's many models - nothing
pops up on your desktop; there's no indication that you've got anything
models use a connection standard called MTP; they require additional
software installed to allow them to be recognized on Windows systems.
I'm not aware of manufacturers of MTP players who include Mac-able
software. The open source XNJB can be used, however, to allow many (but
not all) of these music players to work, at least to some degree, with
Some other models, however, use a connection standard
known varyingly as UMS or MSC; these models, when connected, appear to
be an external USB drive - on Windows, Linux, and Mac systems. As a
result, they can be used without requiring any additional software or
drivers on any of those systems - just drag music files to the Music
folder, and you're in business.
(While many - though not all -
iPods can be set to appear as external drives, Apple has hidden the
Music and other media folders, making it more difficult, though not
impossible, to work with them in this straightforward manner).
SanDisk Sansa Clip
a result, at least some models of MP3 players from companies including
SanDisk, Archos, and even Sony, can be used with non-Windows computers.
I went shopping for a SanDisk Sansa Clip, and found a 4 GB model for
about C$80 - a bit more than half the price of a comparably-sized iPod
nano. (There are also 1 GB and 2 GB Clip models available). Apparently,
as a memory manufacturer, SanDisk is able produce flash memory music
players and other flash RAM devices cheaply. SanDisk holds the #2 spot
in MP3 players, though its market share is far below Apple's.
Clip is a small (2.2" by 1.4" by 0.5") device with a 1" square colour
display and a round 4-position control pad with a select button in the
centre. As well, there's a Home button, a volume switch on the side,
and USB and headphone jacks. A removable belt-clip is also included.
The interface lets you find tunes by album or artist as well as by song
Although I had seen a review of the Clip noting that it
could connect to Macs, there was no indication on the packaging that it
was Mac-compatible; the box listed system requirements as Windows XP2
and Windows Media Player 10. Luckily, I could have brought it back for
a refund if it hadn't worked for me.
The Clip comes with a
short USB cable; when it was connected to my Mac, it promptly appeared
as an external drive - the Clip's 1" screen showed that it was
connected and charging. Double-clicking the drive icon on my Mac showed
folders labeled Music and Audible (for Audible book recordings). It was
no sweat to copy album folders from my Mac into the Music folder.
real test, of course, is whether the music works. The Clip's packaging
promises support for MP3 and both protected and unprotected Windows
Media music files, along with Audible book files. There's no support
for Apple's AAC file format, used by default when you rip CDs to iTunes
or download copy-protected music from the iTunes Store.
I routinely set iTunes to rip CDs to MP3, the music files that I copied
over to the Clip played without problem, showing artist and album
information on its small screen.
Unlike the pricier iPod nano,
there's no support for photos or video files - though you could use the
Clip as an external drive to transport these or other data files. But
there are several features that you don't get on any iPod model, at
least not without buying third-party add-ons. The Clip has a built-in
FM radio tuner with support for up to 40 preset stations. There's a
built-in mike and voice recorder. There's even an adjustable five-band
Sound quality is pretty good, especially for such an
inexpensive device. As with Apple's iPods, you may want to ditch the
included earbuds for something better - I use Creative's Zen Aurvana
It's not going to replace my iPod touch, but
it's nice to know that however much Mac owners may like Apple's iPod
models, there are other Mac-usable MP3 players available.
I just wish SanDisk would mention this on their product
Comment (Feb 2011): Brian Keegan writes - "Thanks for
your article on using a Sandisk mp3 player with Mac. I found it to use
as support after buying a Sandisk player out of desperation. I was in a
similar budgetary spot, wanting a low cost way to share music. I bought
an iPod Shuffle for my niece for xmas, only to find out that it no
longer had system software up-to-date enough to interface with the new
iPods. Really irritating. Thanks Apple.
Since I'd used Sandisk
memory sticks with success, I was hoping Sandisk would be the brand
that would interface with my Mac, and sure enough it did. Unlike you,
I've always ripped using the high-end Mac file format. But I knew this
was going to be an issue, so I investigated, and found that iTunes
allows you to convert file formats. So no new software needed. I can
make mp3 copies of AAC files.
Hopefully I'll be able
to batch convert files to mp3 copies. I have only done one so far as a
test. The "within iTunes"ability to convert files might be useful
information to add to your article.
Also wanted to point
out to you that as of now, the story on costs is even better for
sandisk players than your 2008 links suggest. A 4MB Sansa Clip is only
Note - iTunes includes the option to change its default music format
(used for ripping CDs, etc) to MP3, and includes an 'Advanced' menu
offering to create an MP3 copy of an existing music file. By selecting
multiple songs at a time, this can be used to 'batch' convert bunches
of files at one go - though then getting those files where you want
them can be a bit of a chore! (AZ)