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SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players) review:

SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players)

The removable back plate and battery are definitely big bonuses.

Back to the SanDisk Sansa e200's software interface: The main menu reminds us of certain Sony products, where icon-based options such as Music, Video, Photo, FM Radio, Settings, and Voice move in a circular motion, which is a perfect design, considering the scrollwheel. The menu is airy and open, so you never feel boxed in, despite all the e200's features. At the bottom of the screen, you get a time and battery indicator. If a track is playing or you're listening to radio, and you're in the main menu or another option screen, the program will scroll across the bottom so that you always know what's going on. We only wish the display had a bit more resolution--photos, video, and even the menu text are somewhat pixelated.

The Sansa e200 series has a colorful screen, with intuitive, icon-based navigation.

The music library filters are pretty standard on the SanDisk Sansa e200, with Play All tracks up top, along with Artists, Album, Songs, Genres, My Top Rated, Recordings, and Playlists as options. On the playback screen, you get thumbnail album art, track info, and a time-elapsed meter. Pressing the select button takes you to a neat graphic-level meter, full-size album art, and the next song.

The SanDisk Sansa e200 package includes the player, earbuds (better than the typical e100- or m200-series headphones), a black slip-on case reminiscent of the iPod case, a lanyard, a proprietary USB cable, and a software CD. Unfortunately, there is no AC adapter in the package.

The SanDisk Sansa e200 includes many features that truly distinguish it from the Nano (we tested the e280 using the latest firmware version 01.01.11A, which adds, among other things, a highly requested custom EQ and a play-previous-song option). It plays MP3, WMA DRM 10 (subscription), and WAV files. Audible support may be coming soon, but that has yet to be confirmed. Also, the device includes a voice recorder, an FM tuner and recorder, and the ability to display photos (you can put top- viewed photos in a list or in a 3x4 grid of thumbnails) and play back video. Missing in action is a line-in recorder, as well as USB on-the-go capability, which is best suited for digital photo enthusiasts. We can live without these two extra features.

When you're dealing with video and photos, you won't get the streamlined experience you do with the iPod and iTunes. Although Windows Media Player is the primary audio-transfer application for the SanDisk Sansa e200, you'll need to use the included SanDisk Media Converter to get photos and video to play. The utility is simple to use, and it can convert most popular video formats (MPEG-4, WMV, DivX, and so on) into the 15fps MJPEG format. Video won't look stellar, but it works well enough for casual use (as well as showing off to friends). JPEG and BMP photos also get downsized. Slide shows don't include fancy fades and wipes, but you can listen to music while viewing photos. For those interested in the growing world of online video, the process of getting video working on your device will be time-consuming. Plus there is no iTunes-like download, transfer, and play option; conversion is your only recourse. The e200 is not a portable video player and certainly isn't a video iPod. But those who are patient will benefit greatly from having this video included in such a compact MP3 player.

The SanDisk Sansa e200 is an MTP device but can be switched into UMS mode, meaning it can be used as a hard drive, which is a good thing for Mac users and those who prefer to drag and drop tracks. The only caveat here is that the expansion slot will not work when the unit is in MTP mode. Other observations: As mentioned, you can create a single on-the-go playlist with the e200. Unfortunately, voice and FM recording are made in WAV; MP3 would have been a nicer space-saving option. The FM tuner allows 12 presets, which can be autoscanned or managed manually.

A fistful of features and supercompetitive pricing are hallmarks of SanDisk products. While many may argue that SanDisk's build and sound quality have been traditionally on the value end of the spectrum, the SanDisk Sansa e200 is no slacker when it comes to performance. The physical build is obviously nicer than that of the m200 or e100 series, but beyond that, the unit's sound quality has improved as well, though picky listeners will notice some system noise.

SanDisk is one of the first manufacturers, if not the first, to use a PortalPlayer chip designed specifically for flash players. The Nano and the iPod Video use a PortalPlayer chip as well, but those are optimized for hard drive-based players. Audio sounds bright, and the unit gets loud, driving our Grado SR80 well beyond normal listening levels. SanDisk has added a custom five-band EQ to the mix, so now there are 11 on-the-fly EQ options, including Full Bass, Full Treble, and the typical set of genre-based settings. The EQs aren't that spectacular but certainly better than the iPod's wimpy EQs. The e200 may not sound as beautiful as a Cowon or a Sony player, but it comes close. SanDisk has addressed an earlier issue wherein we detected clicks during volume changes and general system processing; electrical interference is much less detectable with the latest version. The only misgiving we have is still a slight but noticeable hum when the system is processing (for picky ears at low volumes). FM radio comes in loud and clear, and recording quality is decent. The device also works reasonably well with subscription applications such as Rhapsody and actual subscription playback. Unfortunately, the device cannot pipe video out to a TV.

For quality of video and photos, we're not as impressed, though currently, there aren't many flash players with big-screen multimedia capabilities, save for the iRiver U10. As mentioned, the screen is bright, and video looks reasonable--even at 15fps--but the viewing angle from the left side is not great. In addition, most photos end up cropped (with black borders) due to the screen ratio. Still, the screen is bigger than the Nano's 1.5-inch display, plus photos and videos look decent if not supersharp. Overall, processor performance is excellent, with the e200 seldom pausing and freezing up only once in our testing.

The SanDisk Sansa e200 has an audio-battery rating of 20 hours. This is an excellent number, far exceeding the 12 hours of the iPod Nano. Our test unit drained in 22.5 hours--definitely good stuff.

Look out, iPod Nano and other high-end flash players--SanDisk, which can be aggressive with its prices, thanks to its advantageous place in the memory business, is coming out with some attractive WMA weapons. The new pricing scheme truly sticks it to Apple and other competitors, who offer only half the capacity at the same price. Though we know that capacity is only part of the overall picture, SanDisk deserves praise for being aggressive on both price and feature points.

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