Sansa Connect WiFi MP3 player has features not on any iPod

NEW YORK – So far, nothing but a new iPod has been able to tear me away from my old iPod. But after spending some time cozying up to SanDisk Corp.’s new Sansa Connect WiFi MP3 player, I’m willing to admit there are other players I’d use in a pinch.

The $250 Sansa Connect is a flash-based music player that lets users access Internet radio, view Flickr photos, see what their Yahoo Instant Messenger buddies are listening to and download music, all via Wi-Fi – something no iPod offers.

After taking it out of the box, I winced at its bulk – the Connect is about twice as thick as an iPod Nano, but only comes with 4 gigabytes of memory. A black nub sticks out of its top, which I guessed might house its Wi-Fi antenna. The nub includes openings for attaching a shamelessly unfashionable black rubber lanyard, which, despite about 20 minutes of concentrated effort, I could not thread.

Aesthetics aside, the Connect quickly proved to be a solid MP3 player.

It supports the usual music formats like MP3 and Windows Media Audio, and its interface is easy to navigate. Its black clickwheel is usually quite responsive, though the player’s moving parts may cause some consumers to worry it could break. Like Apple Inc.’s iPod Nano, the Connect sports a headphone jack on its bottom.

There’s also a built-in speaker, which sounded decent at low volumes but got predictably tinny as I pumped up the jams. Also, the speaker is inexplicably located on the Connect’s lower back side, which requires either setting the player on its back or holding it upside down and backward.

The Connect’s built-in rechargeable battery is rated for 6 hours of music playing with Wi-Fi on, or 12 hours with it off. I got about 3 hours out of it while using various functions with the WiFi turned on and expect this would be higher with the WiFi off.

The Connect has a bright, crisp 2.2-inch color screen, which made some of my lower-resolution camera phone photos look better than expected. It was nice to be able to check out my Flickr photos while on the go, and I could see storing pictures on and accessing them from the Internet would save photo hounds significant internal memory.

And even though I would have liked more built-in memory (SanDisk, after all, is best known as a maker of flash memory), the Connect comes with a Micro SD slot, which quickly let me swap music and photos between the device and similarly equipped cell phones, as well as with computers.

Initially, the Connect’s free access to LAUNCHcast Internet radio seemed a little half-baked. I like the idea of being able to listen to Internet radio on an MP3 player, but because it relies on staying within a Wi-Fi hotspot I figured it wouldn’t be much good on the go.

But I changed my tune while running on a treadmill at the gym, where I ran out of good songs two-thirds into my workout.

The Internet radio feature came to the rescue – I turned it on and was connected to a whole new library of online songs via a nearby wireless network.

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