The Sansa Fuze was not supposed to be announced by SanDisk until later in the month. But after numerous leaks by some seemingly incompetent online retailers, SanDisk has moved forward the schedule. The Fuze was made official earlier today.

The Sansa Fuze is a new mid-range MP3 player that will compete directly with MP3 players like the Creative Zen and the iPod nano. And SanDisk was kind enough to give us an exclusive first-look at the Fuze when we visited the company at CeBIT last week. Essentially, it’s a Sansa model which sits firmly between the upper-end Sansa View and the lower-end Sansa Clip.

Clearly designed to compete with Apple’s iPod nano, it’s a pretty good looking little player. It closely resembles to its two sister models actually, and so Sansa's distinctive new look is now completed across the range.

iPod nano has some competition

But is it any good? Well it looks good, that’s for sure. It’s a very nice size, and sits in your hand perfectly. The interface and scroll-wheel are identical to those of the Sansa View and so essentially the only differences between the two are physical size and capacity.

While the Sansa View will soon be available in 32GB, the Fuze will only initially come in 2,4 and 8GB flavours.

We were told a few weeks ago that SanDisk had made a special effort to improve sound quality on the Fuze compared to its other players. But it seems as though that isn’t the case after all – that’s not to say it sounds bad, of course. The 192Kbps MP3 we listened to sounded pretty good, although perhaps not quite as crisp as on other players we’ve used.

The interface, as with all Sansa players, is pretty intuitive. Just like the View and the e-series before it, the filing system is very similar to that of the iPod and Creative’s Zen players. So in that respect, it’s very easy to use, and it looks good too.

In addition to playing music, video, photos, FM radio and audiobooks, the Sansa Fuze has a generous list of features, including the now-expected microSD card slot to upgrade storage capacity; a voice recorder to capture thoughts on the fly, and pretty attractive 1.9-inch screen.

The Fuze will be available from around £50, so if your budget sits around that price-point, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Stay tuned for a full-review of the Sansa Fuze very soon.