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Microsoft had a great idea for its Zune digital media player: Let people share their favorite songs using a wireless connection. But they so badly botched the execution of that idea that the Zune has become an industry joke. Sandisk has just shipped their $250 Sansa Connect player, and they’ve nailed the concept; well, at least as much as they could within the constraints the music industry has placed on digital music downloads (the Apple/EMI deal notwithstanding).
Yes, there is a catch: In order to share music with friends who also own Sansa Connect players, you all must subscribe to Yahoo Music Unlimited to Go, which costs $12 per month, billed annually or $15 per month, billed monthly. That means the songs you share must be in Yahoo’s two-million-song library and that those songs will come with DRM leashes attached. But if you don’t care about sharing music—or if you’re just not interested in subscribing to Yahoo’s music offering—there’s still plenty to like about the Sansa Connect.
I’ve only had the player since yesterday (April 9), but I’m thoroughly impressed with it so far. For starters, it connects to a standard Wi-Fi network using WEP, WPA, or WPA2 Personal security (Enterprise authentication security is not supported). So even if you don’t pay for a Yahoo Music subscription, you can make use of two of Yahoo’s free services, Launchcast Radio and Flickr, without connecting the player to your PC or hardwiring it to your network. The Internet radio feature is particularly cool. Using the Zing Mobile Entertainment Engine, the player can automatically create mixes based on any song that you happen to be listening to. If you do subscribe to Yahoo’s music service, you can press one button to download the song or the entire album on which it was published. Downloading happens in the background as long as you’re connected to the Internet.
I’m a little disappointed that the device is limited to MP3 and WMA files at max bit rates of 192Kb/sec, but its wireless features are supremely attractive. I’m going to live with this player for a while and write a full review for an upcoming issue.