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You may recognize the name Sansa View, but that's about all SanDisk's new video MP3 player has in common with the original View announced at CES. 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 an e200 with a sleeker design, a beefed-up screen, and a larger body. It's a smart move, since more users are inclined toward compact players than dedicated PVPs. Even smarter is the price: The 8GB View goes for just $149.99, and the 16GB for only $199.99. By comparison, the Creative Zen in 8GB and 16GB capacities goes for $199.99 and $249.99, respectively. However, it must be said: The Sansa's sound does not stack up to the Zen's.
We're a bit torn on the Sansa View's design. On the one hand, it's pretty large for a flash MP3 player (4.3 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.4 inch), but it also has an ample (2.4-inch) screen. And we're taken with the mechanical scroll wheel that sits below the screen and the nifty backlit 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 center 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, 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 (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards. At the time of this writing, these went up to 8GB, meaning you could potentially have a View with up to 24GB--definitely a good thing for a video player.
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, I 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 certain people. Along with track info (title, artist, album), this screen also displays album art and can be set to show one of the following: time elapsed/remaining, a graphic equalizer, full-screen cover art, or the song that's on deck.
Although the playback screen offers all the info you'd want, most of the Sansa View's interface is fairly uninspiring. You can set different wallpaper colors, but they all appear a bit 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 organization 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 organization of that content. Another bonus: Although SanDisk's documentation calls only for Windows support, we had no trouble attaching the 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. This player can even take videos purchased from services such as Amazon Unboxed and TiVoToGo, and it should have no problem with video podcasts acquired through iTunes. The Sansa Media Converter, available as a download, can transcode other (unprotected) formats for 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 or Rhapsody. 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 tested battery life of 32.3 hours for audio is certainly formidable, and the video battery life of 5 hours should satisfy most power users--though we'd be more impressed if it matched the 7-hour rating. 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 test earbuds (Shure SE310s) and headphones (Ultrasone HFi-700s) that offer great low-end response. However, music in general sounds pretty good, with nice high-end clarity and warm mids. It's not as sparkly as the Sony NWZ-A810, but the average listener should be satisfied. Despite the aforementioned dimming effect of the screen, photos look sharp and bright with good color saturation. Videos, however, did suffer a bit from the dimness, and we noticed some slight pixelation at points, but they still looked passable.