I haven't felt the need to own a dedicated portable music player for a good number of years. I loved my Walkman back in the day, and enjoyed a spell with MiniDisc in the '90s, but nowadays, my mobile phone doubles as an MP3 player just fine.
Or at least it did, until I joined the gym. While I'm dying a thousand deaths on the treadmill, having a chunky BlackBerry weighing down my shorts is no fun - for me or the unfortunate soul on the machine behind - so I decided it's time to pick up a small, portable player that won't break the bank and serves a single purpose: to play tunes during my workout.
The most obvious solution, and arguably the best-known, is Apple's iPod shuffle. But as an iPad owner, I know that the iTunes ecosystem isn't to my liking, so I've opted instead for the other well-known solution, SanDisk's Sansa Clip Zip.
Launched a couple of weeks ago as a third-generation addition to the hot-selling line of Clip MP3 players, the Zip is available in 4GB and 8GB capacities priced at £40 and £50, respectively.
The entry-level 4GB model is available in a wide range of colours (orange, red, grey, black, white, purple and blue) and there's an immediate attraction - it costs the same as an iPod shuffle, but it offers double the capacity.
The larger capacity provides ample room for hundreds of high-quality tracks, but the Clip Zip is also bigger in size. While the iPod shuffle measures 29mm x 32mm x 9mm, the Clip Zip stands taller and thicker at 56mm x 36mm x 14mm. This isn't technically the smallest MP3 player available, but it's still awfully tiny, and at just 25g in weight, it's also light enough to go practically unnoticed.
SanDisk's exterior aesthetics are easy on the eye, and the ultra-compact form factor has been put to good use. A single power button occupies the top edge (and a quick click allows it to double as a lock key), a micro-USB port sits on the left alongside a volume rocker, while the right side houses the headphone jack and a microSD card slot. The latter could be particularly useful, as it allows users with vast music libraries to expand capacity with a microSD card of up to 32GB in size.
On the face of the device, there's room for a 1.1in colour display that provides a basic 96x96-pixel resolution and six well-placed buttons that are easy to find and satisfying to press. Four of the buttons - play/pause, previous, next and menu - are positioned around a concave rocker in which a raised enter button sits neatly in the middle and a dedicated back button resides further up the device. The layout is neat and simple, and the minor bumps make it easy to find the right key without looking. There are no unnecessary touch-sensitive controls, and that makes the Clip Zip ideal for use in a hot, sweaty gym.
Around the back, a plastic clip that feels surprisingly strong and rigid covers the length of the device. The clip's teeth keep the Zip well attached to a t-shirt, and the rounded plastic feels just fine against the skin. You rarely notice it's there, which unless you lose it, can only be a good thing.
Inside, SanDisk includes a rechargeable battery that claims to be good for up to 15 hours. The projected figure isn't far off the mark, as our Clip Zip sample managed to keep running for just under 14 hours in a battery rundown test.