Why I Picked the Sansa e280 As My Latest MP3 Player

Sansa e200 Series

This story starts off with bad news: I left my 2GB iPod Nano on a plane recently. Don’t worry, I’m not too torn up about it since I got it as an office Christmas gift. Now I need to find me a new portable audio player of some sort, because I’m not about to go on another flight or to the gym without some entertainment. Here’s the rundown on some of the brands and models I looked at and why I ended up choosing the Sansa e280 by Sandisk.

To start off, here were my requirements:

  • Preferrably Flash-based unit so as to be small enough to wear at the gym, although I didn’t rule out Hard Disk ones.
  • Be able to put the Rockbox firmware on it. I like Rockbox because I can tweak the equalizer settings manually. Typically the sound coming out of these small devices isn’t the best, although that’s improving all the time. Yes, having it be Rockbox-able meant that it reduced the number of possibilities right away.
  • Decent physical interface
  • Decent battery life (at least 12 hours)
  • Reasonably light
  • Good form factor

I quickly narrowed the list down to Apple’s iPod Nano (8GB), SanDisk Sansa e280 (8GB), and the Cowon iAudio X5 (30GB). I eliminated these brands/models: iriver doesn’t have as many models available in the States any more, and Toshiba has had issues with their Gigabeat models. I also considered Archos, but their strength is in PMPs like the 704 WiFi. They did have a 6GB Flash-based player, but it was the same price as the e280 with fewer features and not Rockbox-able. Unfortunately, I would have liked to have included some of Creative‘s products, but they’re not yet Rockbox-able.

For the 3 remaining products, I compared the Nano and the e280 straight up and the e280 won easily with its bigger feature set and better price. Also, the 2nd gen Nanos don’t support Rockbox. Now down to the iAudio X5 and the Sansa e280, it was essentially a fight between a Flash-based player and one that was Hard Drive-based.

There were 3 big factors that came into play: size/weight, storage and sound quality. The iAudio has 2.5 times the storage of the Sansa, but it weighs 5 ounces and is twice as wide, which while not ridiculous could be a little bulky and heavy for strapping to your wrist or waist in the gym. The sound quality on the iAudio is reportedly pretty damn good for an MP3 player, as Cowon has licensed software from BBE Sound, which tweaks the sound to compensate for the shortcomings of the hardware (read this review at PCMag for more info). By the way, if you don’t know this yet, toss whatever cheap headphones come with your MP3 player and get some decent 3rd-party ones. As far as storage goes, 8GB is pretty decent and the Sansa has a nice little feature in that department: it accepts a microSD card! I can definitely hold a lot of music on there before I need to swap content out.

Here were the other factors that I considered in this heads-up: battery life: 20 hours on the Sansa vs 14 on the iAudio; the iAudio does not recharge via USB but requires a separate charger; I did not like the small joystick controller on the iAudio although I can’t judge that perfectly without getting my hands on one; I could not easily find a carrying case for the iAudio with the gym in mind; the 30GB X5 wasn’t easily available – I would probably have had to get it via eBay.

Incidentally, both the Sansa e280 and the iAudio have FM tuners, and the ability to record FM on the fly, and voice recorders with built-in microphones. Come on Apple! I didn’t care much about this, but they also have decent TFT LCD screens and can display your photos/images and videos.

So I’m decided. I’m getting a Sansa e280. In fact, I just bought it from Amazon. Dead lowest price ($150). I was actually surprised, as Amazon has never really been the lowest etailer out there. Maybe they’re changing that now that they’re making a profit 😉

Once I get my hands on the Sansa, I may do a quick review. I can’t wait to fill it up with music and podcasts and of course, audio notes to myself.


  1. Interesting. I was also thinking of getting a new mp3 player also for the gym (my 1st gen 8gb nano has become fairly short on battery life) and wasn’t sure what to get. I’ve read quite a bit about the Sandisks and have had my eye on them for a while, but some of the reviews I’ve read didn’t quite seem “real world” enough for me. They’re usually just mess with it for a bit and write down what they think, so I’ll be looking forward to your review because I know you’ll put some time in with it.

    I like the size of the Creative Stone Plus but I don’t like that they’re only 2gb. I like the 3-line OLED display but only it only displays one line of song info. I haven’t found any reviews of it so far, but from the press pics it looks like it only displays the file name and not the track title or anything. I’m hoping this is clearly not the case.

    I read that Sony has a new Walkman mp3 player that has a slick OLED display and doesn’t require the lame Sonic Stage software. Apparently you can drag and drop files to it (like the Creative Stone and Stone Plus) as Windows will treat it like a regular flash drive. I don’t know why more flash players aren’t like this. I guess they all want you to use their crappy software. I also don’t remember the capacity but it’s either 2gb or 4gb. Sony definitely kicks ass in the style department but they’re players are a bit subpar and Sonic Stage and converting everything to AAC doesn’t help.

    Anyway, looking forward to your review of the Sansa!

  2. Thx miro. I’ll definitely be using my Sansa extensively. I’ll try to stick to the default firmware for a while before replacing it with Rockbox!

    Good point about drag and drop. I’m with you on that. I used to do it with my iPod, but I had to use specific apps, like MediaMonkey, for example. I believe the main issue there is having the device’s firmware do an update on the internal database that ‘knows’ about the tracks on your device, so that when you scanned the device, the newly uploaded tracks would be listed.

    Anyway, if this were a straight-up MP3 player choice, I would have considered many more players, but my wanting Rockbox limited my choices greatly.

  3. Wow, this is cool. I just checked out Rockbox and it looks amazing. I’m going to put it on my nano and mess around with it. Very slick!

    Btw, I use the built-in ipod plugin for Winamp to transfer my music to/from my nano. Works likes a champ!

  4. miro – Glad you checked out Rockbox. Do read the instructions and guidelines carefully so you don’t brick your Nano! The cool thing about Rockbox, at least when I used it on the Nano, is that you can switch between both firmwares, with a simple key combo.

  5. Yeah, I was bored at work today so I was able to read up about it. I just got installed and it’s pretty slick. Some of the themes aren’t showing up correctly but that’s okay. Unfortunately my gf won’t let me install Rockbox on her Ipod Video. I was trying to change her mind by showing her all the cool themes but no luck lol

    Thanks again!

  6. No problem. Always glad to see cool stuff like Rockbox being adopted. While I realize that lots of (maybe most) people like the default and prefer it simple, I like to see vendors offering folks like us more options! Maybe some of the Rockbox options will make it into newer or optional firmware releases…

    Maybe you can show your g/f some of the games that Rockbox comes with. 😉

  7. DId you get rock box working on your 8gb e280? I'm looking to buy one, and wondered if rockbox supports it … ping me at felipe [dot] alvarez [at] gmail [dot] com

    1. Felipe – I have to confess that I haven't done it yet! I know, I know, I ended up procrastinating. I may end up doing it soon, b/c lately I've been having some issues with syncing from Music Monkey to my e280.

      According to the Rockbox page, it should work pretty well. Just make sure your hw version is v1.

  8. Nice system, good price, fairly easy set up
    Purchased this system for our family room which is a little on the smaller side. The sound is rich and full, the subwoofer is better than expected, and overall we're very pleased. Good TV sound and excellent DVD and iPod sound. Moderately priced as well, which is a bonus. *NOTE: Fiber Optic audio and HDMI video cables are NOT included

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