Sandisk Sansa e280: The iPod Nano Killer

While I don’t write many reviews because I have a tendency to be subjective about it, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a first nor does it mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. After two years, I finally got my hands on a new mp3 player to replace my ageing (and slightly wonky) Creative Zen Micro. Now it’s not like I have a lot of money pouring out from my ears, so I did have a thorough research on the matter which is important following the review. After all that’s said and done, I purchased myself a Sandisk Sansa e280. After one week this is what I came up with.

Sansa With Proprietary Cable Dock

The first thing you’re going to notice about the Sansa e200 series is the similarity it has to the iPod Nano. This is true because it was designed to compete directly against Apple’s Nano, but that’s where the similarity stops. The Sansa is slightly bigger and heavier than the iPod Nano, not like that matters because it’s still going to be ridiculously small and light to begin with.

Yet despite that, it struck me as something you can throw at someone’s face, kill them, then pick it up and keep listening to your music. It doesn’t feel cheap. It feels solid with its metal underside. Even though it did say it’s scratch resistant. Somehow, I managed to get a couple of micro scratches on the front. Barely noticeable against the light, but since it’s my baby, it looks like the Grand Canyon to me. Also, the front of the Sansa is like a fingerprint magnet. Being anal as I am, I have to constantly wipe it to keep it clean. You might be better off buying a casing for it, which I did.

The Sansa has a bigger screen compared to the Nano, sporting a decent resolution colour screen. Mind you though, you’re not going to get mind blowing effects from the screen, but when you take into account the fact that it’s still an 8 gigabyte capacity mp3 player, that’s a pretty good deal coming from something so small.

The interface is beautiful. It’s simple and direct to the point. Navigating it however can be tricky. because compared the the Nano, the Sansa e200 has a mechanical scroll wheel. If you have big hands like me, the wheel can be a little hard to reach. Also the wheel is only slightly raised from the buttons and clicking them needs a little getting used to. But given the ease of the interface, you don’t really have to click on many buttons in the first place.

Trying out the player’s video and picture display capabilities, It was as I expect from it. The catch is that you can’t just drag and drop your pictures and video files into the player and expect it to play. You have to first convert it via the provided software before you can play it on the e280. Converting pictures is a snap, it’s converting videos that might turn out to be a pain. Because the conversion is processor dependant, it might take anywhere from half an hour to an hour to convert a 700 megabyte video.

What surprised me is that after conversion, the video file (which has been converted into .mov format) is actually bigger and has been split into multiple files. Why is a smaller re-sized video bigger than the original? I have no idea why. But if that puts you off, consider that it supports AVI, MOV, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, VOB. That’s a lot of video support, but that isn’t why you might consider the Sansa as something to buy in the first place.

Music, that’s what we’re here for. I own the 8 gigabyte Sansa e280 which means that’s a whopping 2000 over mp3’s given that it’s at an average 4mb per mp3. Unfortunately while the Sansa supports WMA and OGG formats, it doesn’t support AAC which means you might have to convert it to MP3 if you have it. But don’t worry, a lot of software out there can do that for you without fuss.

If you need more songs, don’t worry about that. It’s got a MicroSD slot for you to use and given the current technology, you can add another 2 gigabytes worth of storage space with a MicroSD card. 10 gigabytes worth of songs. Not bad for a player that’s cheaper than an iPod Nano.

MicroSD Slot

Sound quality is pretty much top notch even if Sandisk isn’t known for their musical capabilities. Mind you, I own a pair of Shure earphones so that pretty much picks up any discrepancies in the music. So far, it’s perfect as far as it goes, that is until the music ends and there is this soft mechanical whirring as you change track. Not noticeable when you’re on the road, but like I said, I’ve got good earphones so you might not even notice it.

Now the Sansa’s party piece and the one thing that gave me a reason to choose it. You require no proprietary software to upload your songs into this player. It is a true drag and drop player where you can upload your songs on the go. Which means you can be at any PC or Mac and just put your songs into this baby just like that. Considering iPods have their iTunes and Creative has its MediaSource. Having this much freedom is a blessing.

The only catch is that you can’t create custom playlist.. By default you can add songs in the player to the “Go” list which acts as a playlist with a push of a button. To create more than one playlist, you need softwares for that. Now since the Sansa was designed to compete against the iPod, it syncs nicely with Microsoft’s Media Player where you can create playlists from there. Not being a fan of the Microsoft Media Player, I opted for using Winamp to upload and sort my music. It’s that easy and the point is, it’s also that flexible. You have a choice and that makes a lot of difference for people like me.

While it doesn’t come with a proprietary software, what it does come with is a proprietary dock and data cable. For some reason, it doesn’t come with it’s own AC charger which means you have to plug it into your PC everytime you recharge. Not that you’re going to recharge often with it’s 20 hour battery life anyway. The reason for the proprietary dock is that Sansa plans third party companies build accessories for it which it more than I can say for Creative’s way of handling things. While there are quite a few companies that have designed accessories around the Sansa, it still can’t rival that off iPod’s marketing share. Then again, the iPod has been around for years, so I don’t blame the lack of accessories just yet. All I did was buy a charger that can fit into the USB cable for when I’m travelling, but it would have been nice if they included it in the box as well.

It also has a voice recorder which you can activate with a push of a button at the side. Perfect for those voice memo’s or lectures you want to save. Though it saves the recording in WAV format rather than my preferred MP3, but that’s no big deal. It has an inbuilt FM radio which you can record from as well, though I hear the sound quality isn’t as good when you record straight from the radio. I have no need to test because I don’t use that function for that so I didn’t.

Last but not least, you can modify it if you’re willing to risk voiding the warranty. Though I said the interface it beautiful, that doesn’t mean that there are prettier user interfaces out there. To date and it has only been a week. I have managed to change the user interface theme for the player into something a little sweeter. You can do more than that if you know how to. There are just heaps of tutorials out there on mods for the Sansa. It’s a personal preference though, but I do like to tinker with things, which makes this player worth buying.

I could talk all day about the Sansa but I fear I might just bore you to death about it, so that’s it right here. All that for a very cheap price. I bought mine off eBay for about $375 AUD and you can find the smaller capacity versions for a lot less than that. It’s a good decent player to buy and something worth keeping an eye out especially if you don’t want to be the caught in the fad driven iPod world. It’s value for money for what it has and while it does exactly everything you need to out of the box, it can do so much more.

It’s a true iPod killer. That’s my vote on it.

22 thoughts on “Sandisk Sansa e280: The iPod Nano Killer

  1. No music player on the market at the moment is an iPod killer – the iPod brand is just big to be taken over like that. It will be many many years before there’s a change in dominance, and even then I think the iPod will be keeping it’s crown at least as long as mp3 players are standard.

    As I side note, I’ve got nothing against SanDisk but that thing looks like crap.

  2. The thing about most iPod users is that they don’t know any better. Apple has pretty good marketing and being first, they have the experience to produce something that everyone uses. Yet the market has pretty much staled in comparison to what iPod can offer and what other players have. As long as people understand what they can have, iPod’s aren’t the only ones that can do it and others can do it better.

    It’s a matter of preference of design I guess. I like how it looks and how it works.

  3. Boinq: Well then the Sansa isn’t what you’re looking for. For a little bit more you can get a bigger 30 gigabyte Zen Vision which I hear is pretty good and it actually has accessories to go with it. How large are you looking for anyway?

    Lishun: Not at all. I’m giving it away. I don’t think anyone would buy it anyway. 🙂

  4. it struck me as something you can throw at someone’s face, kill them, then pick it up and keep listening to your music

    Favorite line ever.

  5. The few? It’s like everyone is trying to get a Mac these days, not because they need it but because everyone else is getting one and it’s cool to have it. If that’s the message that Apple is trying to sell. I know where you’re coming from. 🙂

  6. same for my muvo slim. out of production and totally value-less. plus it’s only 256mb. funny how something like that becomes a dinosaur in just a couple of years.

    fancy donating your old zen to the “give lishun more storage space for her music while she contemplates giving up her savings for an mp3 player that will become a dinosaur in a couple of years” cause? heh.

  7. u know … sansa is very good
    i already having sansa its good ,, but its not much famous because i dont see any accesories for it but its good , u can download movies ,videos, songs ,,,u can record or listen radio , or see pictures … its good
    !!! battery is good too !!
    and its easy to use .
    and i hav e280 , 8gb
    its really good

  8. I bought the same model in May ($175 USD) and found your review while looking for hack info.

    The Sansa I bought does not support OGG. Have you tried to upload and listen to any OGG files? I agree with everything else you said in your review. And that’s with having it for two months.

  9. Dan, unfortunately the Sansa doesn’t support OGG by default. You can however install a firmware that gives it ogg support. Rockbox is an open source firmware developed for adding new features. There is a catch though, installing a new firmware means voiding your warranty and if you don’t follow the instructions carefully, you run the risk of irreversibly damaging your sansa. But yeah, by default it won’t work with ogg.

  10. Thanks. I thought it might be geo-restricted. It wouldn’t be the first time. I hear Europeans can’t record from the radio, though I can in the US.

    I’ve been thinking of rockbox, although I’m not ready to take the plunge since it still hasn’t had a release (just daily builds). It’s only a year warranty (not really that long) so I’m not against voiding it to get the features I’d like to see.

    I emailed Sandisk and told them to support OGG. I gave links to the Free Software Foundation page for OGG and pointed out that there are no licensing fees to pay. Here’s the response I got:

    “Thank you for contacting SanDisk Technical support. It is our goal to make sure that you have all the resources that you need to make the most out of your product.

    We would like to thank you for pointing this out to our attention. We have already forwarded this information to the proper personnel for review.

    As of now, we cannot give you a definitive answer concerning the matters you have presented but rest assured that the personnel for this matter will greatly consider it for our product improvement.

    If applicable, please take a moment to update your eBox account at SanDisk.com. This will register your product as well as facilitate the warranty replacement and technical support process in the future. When you update your eBox account, please include the place and date of purchase of your product. This will enable us to better assist you should you need to contact us in the future.

    Should you have any other concern with our products, please reply to this email.

    Best Regards,
    Andrew G.
    SanDisk Technical Support”

  11. Well, Rockbox would always in it’s builds rather than its official release. You can revert it to the original firmware without any problems, but like you know, it’ll void the warranty. I think they might include OGG support in the future. As it is, the possibility of them including DivX support in the player is quite high. Who knows what’s next?

    If only they’d hurry up with the firmware updates.

  12. i love my sansa too! i only got my for 150 dollars [its a killer deal] the touch pad really is kind of difficult to work with, but its nice. how did you change the background? is that on the settings?

  13. Katie: In order to change your theme to a custom UI through a program called H3mod. You actually void the warranty for it by doing so. A lot of sites and forums out there offer user built themes for your Sansa. The theme is part of the firmware that you use when you update your player. Usually people either offer the actual theme edited firmware in which you just have to drag and drop it into your Sansa root folder. Or they give you a theme pack in which you have to use the H3mod program to merge it with the latest firmware that you then can drop into your Sansa root.

  14. I was looking to get my daughter an apple ipod but she is only 10 yrs old. I saw the sandisk sansa e280. What do you think about this?

  15. I hafta say as much as winamp is a cool program you have to try transferring on the sansa with windows media player (11). i know wmp is kinda bulky and you might like winamp better (in general, i do too). but once you try transferring on WMP 11, trust me, you’ll never go back to using anything else. winamp (and everything else ive tried, mediamonkey, real, etc) is a snail when it comes to transfers with the sansa. windows media player is 10x faster and i wouldnt use anything else.
    i hated the idea of using that bulky program at first and i didn’t think any prog would be remarkably faster than anything else. but once i did, phew, forget about it, i’ll never go back, and once you try it for transferring, neither will you. (It is the program sansa intructs you to use after all, must be some special coding, who knows) just try it, you’ll thank me.

  16. I have a sansa e260 player and have enjoyed every minute I have used it. Though the headphones that came with it tend to make your ears sore from the hard Plastic (I bought a better set that is a little more comfortable). not only is the sansa a little more inexpensive but refurbished models can also be found @ a fraction of the cost. I paid $39 US for mine and have had no problems with it. I liked it so much I bought 4 more for friends and family which they also enjoy. Just to point a couple features of the Sansa Players. The player does come in mem size up to 32gb and a mem sd slot. But another feature not available in the IPod is a User replaceable battery. If the battery in Your Ipod goes bad not only is it a pain to get it fixed but also costly.

  17. Sansa supports the development of Rockbox. (can’t find link at this time ..). I do not believe installing Rockbox on Sansa will void warranty.

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