If any company is going to compete on price against Apple's new flash memory music player, it's SanDisk. The company invented flash memory and continues to produce ingenious and ever smaller storage cards that have all but replaced film in cameras. When it comes to MP3 players, SanDisk's 512MB player almost matches Apple's iPod Shuffle 512MB player on price. It is also extremely simple to use with a set of Janet and John instructions that begins with 'How to Find the USB Ports On Your Computer and Player'.
We tested the Blue 512MB version. There are blue and silver versions with 256MB and 1GB storage respectively. The player has the familiar three button controls for switching on and off and changing between MP3, FM radio and voice recorder modes. A hold button locks the player and a joystick controls volume and navigating tracks. The 4 line LCD screen is easy to read and, in MP3 mode, displays directory and track information. It runs on a single AAA battery, which will not last long - about 12 hours playback in our tests.
SanDisk includes MusicMatch software on CD but the player works just as well with programs that are already on Windows-based PCs. If you want to fill your player with MP3 and WMA tracks already on your computer, copied from your CDs, then it is well worth thinking twice about using dedicated music management software. We used the player like a removable drive. Once plugged into the USB port, it appears and acts like a hard drive and shows up in My Computer. Double click on the drive to open it and then create named folders for your music. This is just the same as creating, renaming and moving files and folders as you would on your computer hard drive. Copying music to your player is then a case of dragging and dropping files from the folder where you save your music files - in our case, the My Music folder - to the folders on your removable drive. Do the opposite to take files off the player. Transfer rates were very quick and we managed to fit about 180 tracks on SanDisk's 512MB player. Sound was good and since flash memory has no moving parts, unlike rotating hard drives, the player was unfazed by jogging, jumping, even trampolining.
Our only disappointment with this player was its design. SanDisk may be a Sun Valley powerhouse, but there is not much to distinguish this player's looks from lots of other flash-based players. If you want a player with plenty of attitude, then Apple's iPod Shuffle beats it hands down. But for functionality, the LCD screen and the drag and drop file transfer make this competitively priced player a winner.