Sandisk Sansa Connect Portable Music Player

Despite the widespread installation of Wi-Fi both at home and on the street, downloading of music to portable players has largely remained a corded affair, with the device wired to a computer. But if you're keeping up with the times, you may have noticed that Wi-Fi now beckons anyone sporting earbuds. Competitors of Apple's iPod see today's Wi-Fi hot spots, whether in the home, office, or a public venue, as a more convenient option for downloading new music. The first generation "WiPod" to download music from the air was the MusicGremlin (see Experts' Guide to Great Gifts). Though it didn't stream Internet radio, it did let you enter a title or artist for on-the-fly downloading.

Now comes a more sophisticated model, the Sandisk Sansa Connect portable music player, which streams more than 150 Internet music stations - a selection that bests anything you can get from terrestrial or satellite radio. And if you like what you hear, you press the Zing button to download the song from a library of more than 2 million tunes directly into the Sansa Connect to own for keeps, or to rent as part of a monthly all-you-can-download subscription plan. If you've been walking around with a conventional music player, that may sound like a pretty attractive proposition.

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SETUP About the size of a deck of cards, the Sansa Connect contains 4 gigabytes of internal memory, enough to store about 1,000 4-minute MP3 tunes encoded at 128 kilobits per second. There's also an expansion slot for a micro SD card. In the box are an AC charger, USB cable, earphones, carrying pouch, lanyard, and an installation CD with user guide. You need a Windows XP or Vista computer with Windows Media Player. I installed the Yahoo! Music Jukebox software and created a Yahoo! ID. A 30-day free trial of Yahoo! Music Unlimited To Go is included on a card in the box. After that a subscription is $14.99 monthly, or $11.99 if billed as $143.88 for the year ahead. Songs can be downloaded to keep for 99 or 79 cents with a subscription. The Music Unlimited To Go plan lets you download all you can hear, but the music becomes inaccessible when you stop subscribing. There are other benefits as well that accrue to a wireless connection: Yahoo Messenger users, for example, can "recommend" a song that's streaming live to anyone in their friends list who's online or on another connected Sansa Connect at the same time. You can also see what your friends are listening to.