You may have read my article on how I chose my latest portable audio player, the Sansa e280. The e200 series is essentially all the same model except for the storage amounts (2, 4, 6 and 8GB). Here is my review of this player, but let me say upfront that after having had it for a few weeks now, I love it.
Read on for the full review.
The first thing you’ll notice about the e200 when you unpack it is that it looks remarkably like an iPod Nano. Hey, the Japanese and Chinese have made millions by copying what works and then improving upon it, so why not SanDisk? One immediate difference is in the jog wheel, which is mechanical and has a better tactile feel (in my opinion) than the iPod. The downside is that the wheel itself isn’t flush with the buttons around it, so quickly going from wheel to pressing a button isn’t quite as smooth as with an iPod. This is minor as I quickly got used to rotating my thumb a little and using the tip to hit the buttons.
The Sansa is heavier than the Nano, but it’s an advantage in my view; it also has a solid build to it, and feels like it can take many drops to the floor. It also has a user-replaceable battery. Hear that Apple? 😉
The native GUI interface is a huge improvement over the Nano. Using the full color 220×176 LCD screen, from the main menu, you can quickly get to any of the main applications: Music, Photos, Videos, Settings, FM Radio, & Voice, with each application accompanied by a nice icon. Eye candy for sure, but that helps. There is at least one nuanced improvement that the e200 line has over iPods: when you’re listening to your music, you can hit one button at the bottom which is essentially a context menu to get you to options like toggling Repeat or Shuffle, the Equalizer, Rating the song, and adding it to the Go List playlist. In other words, if you’ve navigated to the song via the Music -> Artists -> Albums route, you don’t need to back all the way out to get to these other menu options. Also, the main menu is always available via its own dedicated button.
One nice thing about the e200 is that I was able to load music onto it just by copying mp3 files over to it, as it’s recognized as a USB hard drive by my computer. Once I start up the Sansa again, it does a look through the files and updates its indexes so that it can list the songs/artists/albums, etc. I used MediaMonkey to update the music on it, but I also used Rhapsody and Windows Explorer as tests. The Sansa can also playback and display a slew of video and image formats. Unfortunately, they need to be run through the Sansa Media Converter which is a small software app that comes with the player.
So how does it sound? I was very happy with the sound quality. Granted that we’re dealing primarily with MP3s, I ripped a bunch of my music using EAC, then converted to MP3 using LAME at 196kpbs, which is higher than what most music services or rippers default to. Then I used my audio-technica QuietPoint noise cancelling headphones, as well as some Shure E3Cs. I didn’t even bother with the headphones that came with the unit. That’s one sore point with MP3 players. Even a cheap ($10-$20) pair of big name headphones (ex: Sony, Koss) from a music store or even a Walmart will sound better than the set that ships with your typical audio player. I was very happy with the quality. Add to the fact that the e200 has a 5-band custom equalizer, you can tweak it to your heart’s content. This is a huge advantage over the iPod in my opinion. One of the reasons I wanted a player that I could install Rockbox on was so that I could tweak the equalizer; now one of my big reasons for wanting Rockbox is gone.
As I really purchased the Sansa for use as a music player, I hardly expected much out of the video or photo capabilities, but I have to say that I was really surprised. The image quality is sharp and bright and the resolution is just enough to allow you to see enough details in most photos. Video quality was also a surprise – the motion was not choppy, and the images bright and crisp as well. I’d say that you could potentially watch tv shows or movies that don’t have a lot of detail in them that you would want to see such as in Sci Fi and/or action movies. I can easily see myself watching sitcoms or news on here. Granted, you may not quite have the rooom on the device to store a lot of material.
That brings me to another nice feature of the e200 series – the microSD slot. You can expand the capacity of this device by 2GB and of course, use the e200 as a limited card reader.
Speaking of nice features, the e200 comes with an FM Tuner and a voice recorder. The voice recorder is pretty simple, but also quite useful if you’re a GTD‘er who wants to get your thoughts out of your head and into a different medium. There is a button on the side as you may find on standalone voice recorders that quickly starts recording. The quality is more than adequate. The FM Tuner on the other hand turned out to be a complete disaster. Don’t buy the e200 if you’re expecting to use the FM tuner. I was able to pick up only 1 station in an area where I can easily get 10 clearly, and the strongest station in the area (that comes in crystal clear on my $25 15-year clock radio) barely comes in.
Back to the music features. Although there is a separate line of Sansa’s known as the e200R that is sold exclusively at Best Buy and the Rhapsody online store, the e200 line works seamlessly with online music services like Rhapsody, Napster, and Yahoo! Music. I run Rhapsody and it instantly recognizes my e280 when I plug it in and I can use Rhapsody to manage the songs and playlists on there as well.
All in all, I really like my e280, and there are only a few drawbacks that are hardly showstoppers, but a word to SanDisk: if you fixed these issues and pushed it the way that Apple pushed the Nano, you could have a Nano-killer on your hands. Fix the following: improve the firmware so it doesn’t freeze at all; fix the FM Tuner so that it’s useful; make the jog wheel flush with the buttons; speed up the boot up time; offer it in some additional colors; ship it with better headphones. Seems like a laundry list, but it pales in comparison to all of the things that the e200 does well. I snagged mine for $150 at Amazon. I can’t wait until 32 and 64GB flash chips start becoming available, so we can ditch the hard drive based players and stuff our entire music collections into a player with better and better audio quality. If you’re in the market for a small form-factor portable audio player, I highly recommend one of the Sansa e200 line.