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You may recognise the name Sansa View, but that's about all SanDisk's new video MP3 player has in common with the original View that SanDisk was planning on releasing. SanDisk essentially went back to the drawing board, which is why it's taken so long for the official View to surface. Rather than a screen-dominated PVP, you get a sleeker design, a beefed-up screen and a larger body.
It's a smart move, since more users are inclined towards compact players than dedicated PVPs. Even smarter is the price -- the 8GB View goes for just £100 and a 16GB version is expected to hit the market in early 2008. By comparison, the 8GB Creative Zen retails for around £120. However, it must be said that the Sansa's sound does not stack up to the Zen's.
We're torn on the Sansa View's design. On the one hand, it's pretty large for a flash MP3 player, but it also has an ample 61mm (2.4-inch) screen. And we're taken with the mechanical scroll wheel that sits below the screen and the nifty backlight control indicators that switch their orientation depending on whether the screen is in landscape mode for photo and video viewing, or portrait mode for navigation and music playback.
In addition to the wheel, there's a home button that alternates between the top menu and the playback screen and a small centre select button. The size of this key may present a problem for the less dexterous, though the fact that it's slightly raised helps things.
Sadly, there's no dedicated volume control and the syncing port, located on the bottom, is proprietary. On the plus side, you get a hold switch on the lower-left spine, while the lower-right edge contains a microSD card slot capable of accepting SDHC cards that at the time of writing went up to 8GB.
Style-wise, the Sansa View definitely falls into the understated category; its shiny black face isn't unattractive, but neither is it eye-catching. The clear coat should do a reasonable job at protecting the player from scratches, but it also creates a dimming effect on the LCD, almost as if you're looking through a very fine-mesh screen. Luckily, the display gets very bright, so visibility is not really an issue.
However, we should note that, although the text for all the menus is black, the lettering on the playback screen is white, which may present a problem for some people. Along with track info -- title, artist and album -- this screen also displays album art and can be set to show one of the following: time elapsed/remaining, a graphic equaliser, full-screen cover art or the song that's on deck.
Although the playback screen offers all the information you'd want, most of the Sansa View's interface is fairly uninspiring. You can set different wallpaper colours, but they appear washed out, and there's no option to set a photo as your backdrop. And although the main menu with its magnifying icons is graphically pleasing, the inner menus feature small font and a rather 'blah' overall feel.
That said, music organisation is good, sorting by artist, album and so on; and we're keen on the photo thumbnails in that respective menu. Also, we're happy to see a separate podcast sort, which allows for easy organisation of that content. Another bonus is that although SanDisk's documentation calls only for Windows support, we had no trouble attaching the Sansa View to a MacBook (running only Mac OS) and transferring audio files.
In addition to standard MP3 files, the Sansa View can play back a healthy array of other digital media files. There's direct support for JPEG photos and MPEG4, WMV, and H.264 videos and this player should have no problem with video podcasts acquired through iTunes. The Sansa Media Converter, available as a download, can transcode other (unprotected) formats for the View.
On the audio side, you get support for WAV, AAC (unprotected), Audible and both protected and unprotected WMA. The player will work with any Windows Media-based audio service, such as Napster. If you get tired of digital audio, switch over to the onboard FM tuner, which features autoscan and 20 preset slots.
The Sansa View's battery life of 35 hours for audio and 7 hours for video is definitely impressive. Audio quality isn't quite as inspiring, though this player certainly doesn't sound bad. The downside is that -- other than electronica -- music tends to be lacking in bass and we get a lot of low-end distortion when we adjust to compensate via the five-band user EQ. And this is despite using Shure SE310s earbuds and some headphones that offer great low-end response. However, music in general sounds pretty good, with nice high-end clarity and warm mids so the average listener should be satisfied.
Despite the aforementioned dimming effect of the screen, photos look sharp and bright with good colour saturation. Videos, however, did suffer from the dimness, and we noticed some slight pixelation at points, but they still looked passable.
Although it is not the perfect digital media player, with its array of features the Sansa View is definitely worth considering given its very reasonable price of around £100.
Additional editing by Jon Squire