Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gadget Review: The SanDisk Sansa e260 4GB mp3 Player [Only Available On Amazon?]


Most of us recognize SanDisk because of its flash drives, memory cards, and other forms of portable storage media. But so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised at their relatively fluid extension into the portable music player world. Not only does the Sansa e260 carry out its advertised functions smoothly, but it brings a SanDisk flair by allowing the user to upgrade the players’ storage capacity with a MicroSD card slot.

I bought the e260 on while it was on sale, so the final cost was about $88.00 including shipping. As I check right now, it’s selling for $99.99 with free shipping. Oddly enough however, it’s not really selling anywhere else. I didn’t bother to do much research on the matter, but other Sansa models currently on the market include the Clip, the Fuze, and the View, all for sale on the SanDisk website, unlike the e200 series.

I disregarded these other products relatively quickly, and I was avoiding the iPod and the Zune like the plague. I have a personal vendetta against both Apple’s and Microsoft's media giants, both for their near-monopoly over the market and for their ridiculous consumer indulgences. I didn’t need my mp3 player to come in cute, customizable colors. I don’t want to put every single piece of media that I own into one pocket-sized device so that I could watch movies on a 3 inch screen. And I really didn’t want to drop 150-300 bucks because I’m a miser.

The biggest seller for me from was the user replaceable battery. I’ve seen far too many cell phones and mp3 players that have to be charged every 2 hours. I’ve seen too many devices replaced for just this one little failure. I didn’t want to have to send my precious mp3 player through the mail to a company store in another state simply because because my product was made to be utterly tamper-safe. Replacement batteries can be found for about $20, and are easily installed with just a simple screw-driver to take the casing apart.

My impressions of this product have been positive, thus far. The FM radio comes in strong and tuning is simple. It has a microphone for creating voice recordings, and the playback is solid. The physical scroll wheel is as effective as it’s touch-sensing alternative. The battery lasted a healthy six to eight hours of music play time time during its first week of use, and I haven’t seen any noticeable drop-off yet. The user interface is straightforward – all menu items are clearly labeled and include graphics when appropriate. The system is easy to navigate through and easy to understand. The player is light-weight while still remaining pretty scratch resistant and solid. Aesthetically, it’s perfectly sleek with it’s shiny black front and metallic silver back. You can load pictures on it as well, but I’m not sure why I would want to (perhaps I could guess if I remembered it was made by SanDisk, makers of portable storage media).

The device interfaces with your computer through Windows Media Player. This forced me to recall that SanDisk is a sub-company of Microsoft, foiling my idea to try to beat The Man, but I quickly came to terms with that. If you’re not into the WMP scene, the device gives you option to treat it – surprise! - like a portable storage medium, and you can simply drag and drop files and folders straight through windows (sorry for all you Mac users out there, but having never owned one, I can’t reliably tell you how it works with one).

Playlists are created through WMP, though it gives you the option to create a Go List within the device. Unfortunately, it lacks the ability to create any other playlists of your own choosing within the player, and I found this fact a little disappointing.

I admit there have been some other flaws as well, despite an otherwise glowing review. I was promised that I would receive it with a fully charged battery, but that turned out to be a lie. It only comes with a USB charger [AC adapter sold separately], and my first attempt to charge it on my computer was a failure – it never admitted it was fully charged even though seven hours had passed. I used it anyway, and subsequent charges seem to have worked as expected, charging it to full in about three hours. The display scratches easily (or maybe my purse is a more brutal environment than I’m willing to admit), and within a week inside I was forced to buy a thick plastic cover to keep it safe and new-looking.

But besides these minor issues, I’ve been thrilled with it, especially for the price. Engadget and cnet both have good things to say about it as well, which bolstered my confidence during my research process. I haven’t tried loading any movies or TV shows on it, but I imagine they compress perfectly via the product-specific compression software included in the package. The screen is too tiny to make it worth it for me; I don’t really like watching 2-inch TV shows.

If you’re interested in an mp3 player and you have a budget, or you’re opposed to Apple products like I am but the Zune is too far out of your price range, then I definitely recommend this product. However, since I can’t find it anywhere but Amazon and second-hand internet sellers, I’m worried I’m behind the times. Maybe it’s no longer produced, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped Amazon. Perhaps I’ll do some research on that later, but no promises. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a solid competitor in the market. Plus, in a few weeks when I buy an 8GB MicroSD card, I’ll like it even more!