Milpitas, Calif. - SanDisk completely redesigned its Fuze series of MP3/video players with new models that add a larger screen, more audio and video codecs, capacitive touchpad, and a film-strip-like graphical user interface (GUI) intended to simplify operation.
The Sansa Fuze+ will be available in versions with 4GB, 8GB and 16GB of embedded memory at suggested retails of $79, $89 and $119, respectively, on Aug. 31 through the Best Buy and SanDisk websites. Distribution will open up Sept. 12 to Best Buy stores and in mid- to late-September to additional CE retailers.
Like before, the players accept MicroSD cards for expanded memory and SanDisk's
music cards, which are preloaded with 500 to 1,000 rights-protected songs at $29.99 to $39.99.
The previous Fuze models, said Tom Bailey, A/V retail senior director, had been upgraded via firmware updates since their early-2008 launch, but the new models are "entirely new," he said.
The new models, for example, sport a larger 2.4-inch display, up from 1.9 inches, and deliver higher display resolution at 320 by 240 QVGA. A capacitive touchpad replaces a scroll wheel, enabling users to take advantage of touchscreen-like functionality without having to cover up part of the display with their fingers and without leaving fingerprints on the screen. The film-strip-style GUI lets users swipe left and right through a menu to get to audio, video, photos, FM radio with FM recording, audio books, the voice-recorder function and memory card content. The default screen displays music functions.
"We have the only MP3/video players with memory card slots," Bailey noted.
For the new models, SanDisk dropped its 30-pin charging connector for a MicroUSB connector, enabling users to use one charger for both their MP3 player and cellphone.
The new products add playback of unprotected AAC music files, enabling them to play back music downloaded from the iTunes store. The other supported codecs are MP3, WAV, protected WMA, FLAC, Off Vorbis and various podcast formats. In video, the previous models supported only MPEG-4, but the new models add WMV, H.264 and the Flip Video format. The latter requires the use of included conversion software loaded on a PC.
Like their predecessors, the new models store subscription-music downloads from Rhapsody, eMusic and Napster.
The new units will come in five color choices, while their predecessors came in three colors.
The company, which also offers less-expensive Clip music-only players, said it enjoyed the No. 1 unit and dollar share in MP3/video players priced less than $100 in the U.S. in 2009. Although the iPod Shuffle plays in that price range, it offers only music playback, Bailey noted. When adding the iPod Shuffle into the comparison, Apple and SanDisk unit and dollar shares in the below-$100 segment are "close," he noted.
Bailey called SanDisk's MP3-player sales "strong" even though about one of every three adults has already purchased an MP3 player and even though music-playing cellphones are capturing market share. MP3 players, he said, "are an affordable indulgence in recessions."
Dedicated MP3 and MP3/video players will survive despite the rise of music phones for multiple reasons, he noted. Because they're lighter and smaller than cellphones, they're easier to carry around when exercising or jogging. Active users also fear for the loss of valuable data stored on a music-playing cellphone if they damage or lose it during jogging or exercising. Dedicated players are also good options for kids and for the less tech-savvy, he added.