We tested the 512MB model. Priced at $149.99, it's attractively styled in blue and silver. If you prefer red and/or a lower price tag, the 256MB model sells for $89.99. There's also an all-silver, 1GB version for $199.99, but as many CNET readers have noted, the player in all sizes is available for much less cash online and is widely considered as a value option.
About the size of a pack of gum (albeit one with a battery compartment bulging from its backside), the DAP sports a larger-than-average LCD. No squinting required here--the four-line screen employs eyesight-friendly text and icons. It also packs in a wealth of information, including track number, elapsed time, a battery gauge, file-format and bit-rate icons, and even a level meter. Of course, the artist and song title are displayed as well, though on a single scrolling line rather than stacked. The line above is reserved for the folder name (or root if there isn't one)--handy only if you use folders to divvy up your music.
The DAP weighs a mere 1.4 ounces with its single AAA battery installed, meaning it's light enough to wear around your neck. In fact, there's a lanyard loop on top of the player. Alas, SanDisk doesn't supply a lanyard; instead, you get a clear-plastic play-through case and a Velcro-tabbed armband.
Controls consist of a five-way joystick, three buttons, and a Hold switch. Users who like to replay segments of an audio track will appreciate the dedicated A-B button, which makes it a snap to select or discontinue segmented play. Unfortunately, that's where the simplicity ends. When no tracks are playing, the A-B button switches between audio, FM, and recording modes. Holding the same button down for two seconds brings up the equalizer. Short and long presses of the joystick also lead to different menus. Thus, the DAP's controls can be frustrating until you memorize all their nuances. It's not a dead-simple iPod Shuffle, but it packs much more heat than the new Apple phenomenon.
The DAP supports MP3, WMA, and DRM-protected WMA formats. You can drag and drop files to the player or use the included Musicmatch 9.0 Basic, a splendid music manager/store. (We highly recommend downloading version 10 from Musicmatch.) In our tests, files zipped from PC to player at the impressive rate of 6.54MB per second. Better still, the DAP played for more than 16 hours before needing a new battery. Of course, we'd still prefer a rechargeable cell, even if it means a bit less play time.
As an FM radio, the DAP delivers strong reception and a handy automemory feature that quickly creates presets from stations in range. However, you can't record radio, a feature available in many other players we've seen. The DAP includes a microphone for voice recording in WAV format, but you're limited to 32Kbps, 8KHz recordings--and they sound terrible.
Music and radio sound much better, though not great. We quickly ditched SanDisk's painful hard-plastic earbuds in favor of our stock Shure E3c 'buds, but even then, the DAP couldn't compare with other players we tested. Music came through flat and muted, though certainly loud enough for noisy subways and the like.
While the Digital Audio Player isn't a bad choice for the athletically inclined or those who have a hard time reading most flash-player screens, it has a few too many strikes against it for us to give a wholehearted recommendation. But for those looking for a bargain, the SanDisk Digital Audio player is ripe for the picking.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.