The search for the perfect iPod alternative is one that Indiana Jones would have tired of by now. There have been plenty of contenders to the throne, but none that can undoubtedly claim to be a better all-round player. If Apple has a weak point and one that’s often exploited it is surely the price; there are plenty of alternatives around that offer more for the money and that’s something Sandisk has targeted with its new 8GB flash player.
While slightly thicker than the iPod Nano it’s otherwise around the same size and offers a 1.8-inch screen to Apple’s 1.5-inch. Unlike some previous models in this series the Sansa e280 is very sturdy; you’ll now find a scratchproof metal backplate together with a gloss black front panel. Controls revolve around a glowing blue scroll wheel and four surrounding buttons. Don’t expect anything as smooth and stylish as Apple’s touch pad, however. The wheel is mechanical and, while responsive enough, the raised design makes the exterior controls a little awkward to operate.
Revolving the scroll wheel cycles you through the applications on the main menu, notably the voice recorder, video player, music player and photo viewer. Thankfully the full colour LCD display is impressive. Both photos and video are extremely sharp, although the viewing angle isn’t great so you really need to be looking directly at the screen for the full effect.
Getting video content onto the player is fairly easily using the conversion software provided. We did notice that sizes doubled from the compressed formats we used when converted to the MOV format the player supports. This is a bit disappointing considering you’d expect the opposite to happen when re-encoding for such a small screen.
Sound quality is very good though. MP3 files are transferred with either drag-and-drop or by synchronising with Windows Media Player to manage and transfer tracks. Everything is sorted into ID3tag categories for you; you can rate songs, choose between preset or custom equalizers and create playlists using the ‘Go List’ feature.
This is an adaptable and very usable player, then. The massive 8GB capacity should last you a while and if you run out of room you’ll find a micro SD slot on the side to up the capacity. You’ll get over 20 hours of playtime for music and the battery is removable so if you do run it into the ground you won’t have to replace the entire player.
Thanks to Sandisk’s status as the world’s largest supplier of flash memory storage, the price has been kept down as well. Currently you can pick up a Sansa e280 online for about 20 percent less than the equivalent sized iPod Nano. That’s with the built-in voice recorder and video playback too, the former of which is accessible instantly via a dedicated record button, making it pretty handy as a real-world Dictaphone.
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