SanDisk Sansa e260 MP3 player

Oh no, not another MP3 player you say? To which we reply, correct: this is not just another MP3 player.

The very idea that SanDisk, makers of memory cards, would come up with such a device following the frankly laughable effort that was the Sansa c150 could have earned you a very nice return had you bet on it with us a couple of weeks ago.

The c150 was wrong in as many ways as the e260 is right; from the flimsy toy feel of the thing and the poor colour screen to the appetite for AAA batteries.

So how is the e260 different? Completely, that’s all. Let’s start with the build quality shall we: this is no toy. The scratch resistant (although sadly the same cannot be said for fingerprints) glossy plastic front is now attached to a "Liquidmetal" back plate that actually accounts for some two-thirds of the depth of the device.

This metal alloy is apparently both harder wearing and more elastic than similar titanium/aluminium alloys, and the scratch resistance is superb: even the reviewers key filled pockets couldn’t ruin it.

This almost industrial solidity doesn’t impact negatively on the design, we think it looks the business. It does add to the weight though, 75g compared to the 45g of an iPod Nano, but pocket busting it certainly isn’t. It is also almost exactly the same size as the Nano, apart from being twice as thick, but again we are only talking 12.5mm here.

Then there’s the storage capacity, a whopping 4GB of onboard flash is exactly twice as much as the equivalent priced Nano and equates to around 1000 MP3 tracks or 2000 WMA ones.

Not forgetting that the huge, for a device of this size, 1.8-inch colour screen is perfect for displaying photos via the built-in viewer, and even video playback although that is as disappointing as any other thumbnail screen sized device.

Although this is bigger than the Nano screen, it only displays 65,000 colours at 220x176 resolution so isn’t quite as pin sharp. That said, it’s plenty bright and sharp enough for a MP3 player for goodness sake. Where it does shine is in regard to making the most of the truly, gloriously, simple menu navigation system. Not only it this easy to use, it’s quicker to get to the tracks you want than the Nano. Unfortunately, it’s let down by the fiddly scroll wheel which is raised inside an outer set of click buttons and gets in the way of their usage if you have fat fingers.

It’s not a terminal problem, and you get used to it, but the iPod with its flush mounted wheel leads the way here apart from the Sansa one lighting up in brilliant blue neon fashion (swoon).

Oh, back to the storage capacity thing, if that 4GB isn’t enough for you SanDisk have unsurprisingly added an expansion card slot that accepts the new MicroSD format memory cards to add more music.

Our enthusiasm is slightly tempered by the fact that you can only play audio from the card, not photos or video, and there is no card included as part of the kit – but hey, it’s more than any other comparable MP3 offers.

When it comes to battery life, the e260 offers plenty. In our tests, our Nano ran out after 12 hours continuous play, the Sansa managed to add another 10 hours to last for 22.

If that weren’t enough, unlike the iPod this battery is user replaceable. Software wise it’s pretty standard stuff courtesy of using Windows Media Player 10 to transfer audio files and keep the player in sync with your music collection, either automatically or manually.

This couldn’t be simpler, just drag and drop audio tracks into the WMP sync list and it’s done (500MB of music, 150 tracks, taking a little over 2 minutes to transfer across the USB2 link).

Photos and video need to be converted using the supplied conversion software which again is a straightforward drag and drop affair. Audio format support is limited though, MP3, WMA and Wav is it, and no audio book support you’ll note.

Verdict

"More" pretty much sums up the Sansa e260: more capacity, more for your money, and even more battery life.

Look beyond the Apple logo and the iPod branding, understand that there are only two letters separating cool from fool, and all of a sudden SanDisk have emerged as the most unlikely of Nano slayers. Compared to the £179 that Apple want for their 4GB iPod Nano, the Sansa e260 £137 price tag is a real bargain.