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SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players) review: SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players)

SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players)

James Kim
Account in memoriam for the editor.
James Kim
10 min read
SanDisk's impressive Sansa e200 series

Editors' note: 10/10/06 CNET has adjusted the score of the Sansa e200 series from 8.3 to 8.0 in light of the arrival of the Sansa e200R Rhapsody, which scores slightly higher (8.3) than the e200.


SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players)

The Good

The SanDisk Sansa e200 series combines copious features such as subscription compatibility, an FM tuner/recorder, voice recording, and photo and video playback into a compact and durable device. We like the tactile navigation wheel, as well as the well-designed software interface. The user-removable battery and the Micro SD slot are nice touches, and the device has decent sound quality, processor performance, and battery life. Finally, the Sansa e200 series has a maximum base capacity of 8GB, and it offers a competitive price in the high-stakes world of high-capacity flash players.

The Bad

No AC adapter in package; the buttons surrounding the SanDisk Sansa e200's scrollwheel can be difficult to press; the mechanical scrollwheel can tire out some thumbs; photos and video must go through conversion with bundled software; the expansion slot can be used with music only, not photos or other media or data; and recordings are made only in WAV. The scrollwheel is not as easy to use as the iPod Click Wheel. Low levels of system noise can heard through headphones at low or zero volume.

The Bottom Line

The SanDisk Sansa e200 series offers a boatload of features for a reasonable price, in a package that is much nicer than that of past SanDisk models. For those looking for a high-capacity, compact, skip-free MP3/WMA player, start with the e200 series.

Editors' note: This review has been updated to reflect the addition of the 8GB version of the e200, the lower prices of each model, and the latest firmware update.

Memory goliath SanDisk continues its assault on the flash-based MP3 player market with the CES launch of the flagship Sansa e200 series, along with the budget-class Sansa c100 series. The SanDisk Sansa e200 series represents a departure from previous Sansa players, thanks to a higher-quality form factor and a bushel of cutting-edge features such as photo and video support, music-subscription compatibility, a user-removable battery, a MicroSD expansion slot, and a tactile Click Wheel-type controller system.

The e200 comes in 6GB ($220), 4GB ($180) and 2GB ($140) varieties, as well as the new 8GB version ($250), the last of which is known currently as the highest-capacity flash-based player in the world. Prices have shifted downward, as well, with all previous models reduced $40 to $50. While the e200 still doesn't match the iPod Nano in design flair and simplicity, it is definitely a premium choice when it comes to a compact flash-based MP3 player, with more features and a better price point than its main competitor. Currently, the 4GB iPod Nano costs as much as the 8GB Sansa e280. The e200 does have a few negative points, but its primary hurdle will be convincing consumers that the 8GB version, just $50 less than bulkier 30GB players like the iPod and Zen Vision:M, is still a good value. The sturdy and sharp-looking SanDisk Sansa e200 measures 3.5 by 1.7 by 0.5 inches, weighs 2.6 ounces, and has a maximum capacity of 8GB (about 2,000 songs), currently the highest capacity for a flash player. Stick a 2GB Micro SD card (about $100) in the expansion slot and you have a maximum of 10GB. All four capacities look and feel the same. Although it's almost twice as thick and heavy as a Nano, the e200 is still compact and it boasts a liquid-metal backside that will not scratch; likewise, the black plastic on the front does not scratch nearly as easily as the Nano's. In terms of raw size and sleekness, the Nano still reigns supreme.

The SanDisk Sansa e200 series (4GB) next to the 4GB Apple iPod Nano (with a ColorWare treatment). This 4GB version lists for $70 less than the 4GB Nano. Note: The Nano is much thinner and lighter than the e200.

The SanDisk Sansa e200's 1.8-inch screen is oriented in portrait mode, and gives the user lots of real estate for navigation. It is much bigger than the Nano's 1.5-inch screen. Videos are viewed holding the e200 in landscape orientation. Although the screen is bright and colorful, it has a maximum resolution of only 220x176 and 65,000 colors, though SanDisk says it's possible that a future version could go up to 260,000 colors. Thus, photos, videos, and album art won't dazzle. However, the color interface, coupled with the well-designed menu system, gives the player a premium feel.

Below the screen is SanDisk's version of the Click Wheel, only this one is mechanical rather than touch sensitive. The thin, circular dial (smaller than the Nano's smooth Click Wheel) with raised bumps and grooves gives the wheel a tactile quality that makes navigating the e200 precise if not a pleasure. Rather than a smooth motion, there is a bit of resistance that gives the right amount of feedback. Zeroing in on items is no problem, and browsing through huge lists is a breeze, especially given that the e200's lists can be navigated backward--that is, unlike with the iPod, you can go from A to Z without having to zoom through the entire library. Still, the dial is no match for the smooth iPod Click Wheel particularly because it is easier on the thumb joint. The e200 may even give your thumb a callous.

The dial also serves as volume control, and while we prefer dedicated buttons, there's an easy way to return to the playback screen when in need (more on this later). The dial also glows a wicked blue when activated. You select using the big button in the center of the wheel, which, in turn, is surrounded by traditional player-control buttons. The bottom of these buttons serves as a context menu; for instance, in playback mode, you can adjust playback and EQ settings or add songs to a playlist. If there is one complaint about the layout, it's that the four surrounding buttons can feel a bit cramped, and occasionally, you won't know if you actually pressed a button. The center select button can feel jiggly too.

The only other button on the face of the SanDisk Sansa e200 is the power/menu button. Pressing the button always takes you back to the main menu; another press takes you back to whatever mode you were last in. This is handy, and it keeps you from navigating backward clumsily, as one often does with an iPod. Moreover, there's no need to hold down a multifunction button a few seconds to get to the menu, a common negative found on many full-featured flash players. This button is easily accessible if you're using it with you right hand given its lower left corner location. Left handed use tends to get uncomfortable.

A record button resides on the left spine of the SanDisk Sansa e200. Pressing it instantly takes you to the voice-record function and starts the recording without further ado. This lightning-quick response transforms the device into a useful voice recorder in the real world.

The SanDisk Sansa e200's right spine features a first: a tiny Micro SD slot, which can accept today's 2GB Micro SD cards (as low as $100). The bottom of the unit features a proprietary dock connector, where you fit the USB cable and other accessories and other accessories that SanDisk sells on its Web site. Thanks to SanDisk's market push (as of June 2006, the company is second in the flash market, with 15 percent, according to NPD), third-party accessory makers may jump in and provide useful accessories. The top of the device includes a hold switch, a microphone hole, and a headphone jack.

The USB port is actually an iPod-like dock connector. Bad news: It's proprietary. Good news: The e200 will benefit from aftermarket accessories.

The back of the SanDisk Sansa e200 is made of a strong, virtually unscratchable metal alloy. You'll notice four screws that can be undone so that users can actually replace the lithium-ion battery themselves--without voiding the warranty. This characteristic gives the e200 a cell-phone-like feel. SanDisk offers replacement batteries for $20--having this option available is a huge benefit.

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.


SanDisk Sansa e200 series (mp3 players)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8