Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Last week's column examined some of the new capabilities of the Sansa Connect, a portable digital audio player designed for an always-connected world. Unfortunately, we don't live in one. Adding inactivity to injury, this is especially true in locations where many people exercise accompanied to music, airplanes (hey, it's hard to return those seats to their upright positions), the New York City subway system, and the streets of cities other than Mountain View, CA. Indeed, most WiFi-friendly environments are also laptop-friendly and thus support access to not only Yahoo Music and its competitors, but high-quality free internet radio from last.fm, Slacker, and others.
To compensate, SanDisk and Zing have one-upped the portable satellite radios that must also deal with blackouts. Rather than simply simply allowing real-time recording of a radio station, the Connect can transfer a song or the song's album to the player if it is available on Yahoo! Music Unlimited. It can even generate an offline playlist on the device -- something similar in spirit to a feature I've long wanted on the iPod and other players, which is to be able to "switch gears" while listening in shuffle mode to play more tracks from just that artist, the rest of the album, or other songs like the one I've heard.
And while the Connect's implementation may fall short of the strong computer or community-generated music exploration features offered by Pandora, Goombah, iJiggy, La La, Last.fm, Amazon or others, it makes for an enjoyable self-led path to discovering new music. Skeptics could counter that this is not so functionally different from browsing a subscription music service on your PC and then transferring to your portable player, but music discovery is that odd leisure activity that requires work. Enabling it to occur untethered is a positive step.