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SanDisk Sansa e200R review: SanDisk Sansa e200R

SanDisk Sansa e200R

James Kim

James Kim

Account in memoriam for the editor.

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6 min read

The Sansa e200 series has made huge waves in 2006. Launched as the world's highest-capacity flash player at 6GB, the feature-filled e200 later soundly beat Apple to the 8GB milestone. Now a special version of SanDisk's flagship player, the Sansa e200R Rhapsody, has appeared, and it looks even better than the original, especially if you're a RealNetworks Rhapsody user.


SanDisk Sansa e200R

The Good

The compact SanDisk Sansa e200R Rhapsody can play back music, video, and photo files and is available in capacities of up to 8GB; works well with Rhapsody; includes dual Rhapsody and PlaysForSure mode; includes an FM tuner, a voice recorder, and innovative Rhapsody Channels feature; improved interface; user removable battery; expansion card slot; good battery life.

The Bad

The SanDisk Sansa e200R Rhapsody's tactile scrollwheel is both a blessing and a burden; must convert photo and video files using bundled Sansa software; occasional low-level system noise underneath audio; proprietary USB dock connector; no AC adapter in package; no custom EQ; you must be playing a song to add it to the Go list.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to an improved feature set and GUI, the Rhapsody version of the flagship Sansa player is better than the original.

The iPod has iTunes; the Sansa e200R has Rhapsody
The flash-based e200R operates on custom-tailored firmware (Real calls this Rhapsody DNA) that's designed to make the experience between Sansa hardware and Rhapsody 4 software a seamless one, with benefits such as improved player-jukebox reliability, faster transfer speeds, and innovative extra features. Microsoft's PlaysForSure (PFS) one-size-fits-all (and bureaucratic) approach got in the way of this type of fine-tuning, so Rhapsody and SanDisk have partnered up to try to provide iPod/iTunes-like ease of use. For the most part, the combo delivers in both ease of use and extra features. Ironically, Microsoft's upcoming Zune player will not be PlaysForSure compatible at all, making the Zune ecosystem as closed as the iPod's.

This is where the Sansa/Rhapsody ecosystem has the advantage, since it's not entirely closed. PFS devices are compatible (just not as compatible) with Rhapsody, and the e200R will work with non-Rhapsody services. The firmware includes a PlaysForSure (PFS) mode, though the player's Rhapsody mode doesn't have anything to do with PFS. It will give you up to two times the transfer speed of PFS mode, and neat music discovery features including Rhapsody Channels. I'll mention some differences between the e200 and e200R GUIs later, but of the two models, I'm into the latter because it adds RAX (AAC with Helix DRM) compatibility in addition to PlaysForSure. In other words, the e200R is a dual-DRM player.

At the e200R's heart is the e200 (read our review). Same body design (minus the Rhapsody branding on the backside) that includes a scratch-resistant back, a removable battery, and a Micro SD expansion slot. You'll get the same supertactile scroll wheel, the same portrait 1.8-inch color screen, and the same proprietary dock port. It's not in the same league of thinness next to the new Nano, but it has more features, including video playback, FM radio, and a voice recorder. It may not be the most elegant player in the world (Darth Vader comes to mind) but it sure beats the Nano in terms of features (though the Nano does have gapless playback and PIM functions). The new e200R adds even more features that the Nano can only dream of at this point.

On the surface, the e200R looks no different than the e200, save the Rhapsody branding.

Differences between the e200 and e200R
As mentioned, the ability to play both WMA and RAX AAC files gives the e200R a unique advantage. But there's definitely more than just format support, though at first glance, the firmware looks and behaves the same: same colorful main menu icons that swivel in place, the same light blue background (not into it), and the same scrollwheel-based navigation. Closer inspection reveals much sharper text, menu options and song titles that magnify as you pass over them, and a new main menu icon called Rhapsody Channels. This R version of the e200 is much more polished (though unlike the original, the R won't allow you to add songs to playlists unless you play them first. This spoils the possibility of an impromptu mix. The e200R is also missing the e200's custom EQ. I'd also love an easier way to get back to the Music list. Please fix this stuff, Real.).

Within Rhapsody 4 (which also has a cleaner interface), one of the tabs is Rhapsody Channels, a renaming of the Radio section. You can actually drag and drop a channel (such as Pop) onto the player and populate it with a playlist. On the player itself, the feature is very radio-like--you can skip forward to the next song, but you can't repeat or skip backwards. If you like a song, you can add it to your library; if you hate it, don't do anything, as it can't be played again. If you really hate it, you can actually ban it from your personalized Rhapsody experience using the built-in rating controls. Next time you sync, this channel will automatically update with new content, including your own custom channels (my Ethereal channel was seeded with Ulrich Schnauss and Manual). This is a clever way of randomizing music (à la Urge's superplaylists) but also cutting out the fat. Though it sounds OK on paper, in practice, the Channels feature works well for me, though it won't work with any other player, including the plain e200. In case you're wondering, owners of the e200 cannot upgrade firmware to the R version, though I hope Real allows this in the near future.

Speaking of music discovery, the e200R comes preloaded with 500 channel/playlist tracks in 13 different genres. These tracks, which include The Church's "Under the Milky Way" and Kanye West's "Gold Digger," will be available for two months or 1,000 plays and can be added to your library if you subscribe to Rhapsody To Go ($14.99 per month). Adding songs to your library is as easy as a push and hold of the Select button (this can be customized to Add To Library, Purchase Track, or Rate Song. If you're not into the subscription thing, you can still use Rhapsody to manage your device and purchase tracks. Or if you want to use the e200R with Napster or Urge, you can do so--just make sure to switch modes when using a Windows Media-based store.

If you're familiar with the e200, you'll notice little differences such as the addition of star ratings and embedded artist info within playback mode. One of Rhapsody's strengths as a music source is its deep editorial database, and the e200R now features bits of artist information accessible as a song is playing. Also, on the e200R interface, you will see a tiny green dot that tells you that your subscription tracks are licensed and refreshed. A yellow dot says you have 10 days, and, well, you know what a red dot means. In addition, Rhapsody will actually refresh your 30-day license each time you sync. The account option in settings will tell you exactly how many days you have left to sync before song licenses expire.

One annoying thing I've noticed when you connect the e200R to Rhapsody: you'll get a NoDisk error, which is referring to the empty expansion slot drive. Otherwise, I've not had a single problem with Rhapsody recognizing the e200R. The device also works well in PFS mode as well as within Urge and Yahoo Music Unlimited. In addition to Rhapsody Channels, the e200R firmware allows for superfast transfers, both of unprotected music and subscription tracks. Rhapsody says "two times as fast as PlaysForSure," and while I haven't seen those speeds, getting tracks onto the e200R happens efficiently and pretty invisibly.

Though SanDisk rates the battery at 20 hours, our CNET Labs found the average battery life for the Sansa e200R to be 17 hours of continuous audio playback from a single charge. That's not spectacular, but it's decent. Though the e200R packaging is a different color, is branded with Rhapsody (and Best Buy), and includes the presence of Lil' Monsta, the contents are the same as the e200: a proprietary USB cable (boo), typical earbuds, a protective case, a lanyard, and a quick start guide. The installation CD includes the Best Buy-skinned version of Rhapsody.

The Sansa e200R's newly branded box and its bundled accessories.

At the same price for a refined interface, cool new features, and a special Rhapsody relationship, the Sansa Rhapsody player looks like a better option than the e200, whether or not you join Rhapsody To Go. Certainly try the tactile scrollwheel--some like its grainy control, while others view the wheel as cheesy and rattly--before you invest, and understand that photo and video files need to be converted using the bundled media conversion software. Also be aware, though the SanDisk sounds decent, of the slight system noise that is audible at the lowest volumes.


SanDisk Sansa e200R

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8
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