I left my iPod Nano in the back of a cab a few weeks ago (yes, I was drunk). To punish myself, and to hopefully avoid some of the problems I’ve had using iPods with Linux (see here and here), I decided to buy a Sandisk Sansa Fuze. This is basically a generic Nano: an 8GB solid state media player with a small screen and video capabilities. It’s about $50 cheaper than the Nano and about 50% crappier in every dimension: it’s bigger and thicker than the Nano and suprisingly heavy; has a first-gen iPod-style mechanical scroll wheel and a misaligned headphone jack; the screen is noticeably low resolution; and the control is counterintuitive (the main menu items swoop diagonally from lower left to upper right—I still can’t wrap my head around which way to turn the wheel). It does have several features that the Nano lacks, e.g., a built-in FM radio and a voice recorder, which I plan to use approximately never.
My expectation that the Fuze would play nicer with Linux were met in one big way: in MSC (USB Mass Storage Device Class) mode, the Fuze looks just like a USB flash drive with some special folders set up (e.g., Music, Videos, Podcasts, etc.). Copying music onto the device is easy as pie. No need to worry about a cryptographic hash. No need to recompile Rhythmbox or Amarok. It Just Works.
My expectations were frustrated in other ways.
- Depending on who you ask, encoding videos for the Fuze is damn difficult or impossible on Linux. I haven’t really tried to solve this, because I can live without video (I only ever used it to stare at the pasty, inert, all-over inessential faces of various Bloggingheads), but the whole situation is absurd. You wouldn’t ship a music player that can’t play MP3s. Nor should you ship a video player that can’t play MP4s. (Yes, yes, I understand that MPEG-4 is a big, unwieldy beast that makes a mockery of the term “standard.” I even understand that video podcasts may use patent-encumbered codecs. But the answer to that is most certainly not to force me to run all my videos through a proprietary Windows-only media converter.)
- Connecting to the player in MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) mode required backporting libmtp 0.3.7 from the Karmic repository. This is no big deal, because the one and only reason I wanted to connect via MTP was to remove the lame music and videos that came preloaded on the player. (Media loaded in MTP mode can only be removed in MTP mode. Media loaded in MSC mode can only be unloaded in MSC mode.) The Fuze crashed when I tried to eject it in MTP mode. But I rebooted it and the files were gone, so I’m happy.
- Podcasts have a tendency to show up with strange, undescriptive code names. This might be Gpodder’s or the podcasts feeds’ fault, for all I know.
Overall, I’m content with the purchase. The Fuze is definitely Less Cool than the Nano. But next to an iPhone, a Nano is a pretty weak status signifier, don’t you think?