SanDisk Sansa e260
At a Glance
The SanDisk Sansa e260 looks a lot like an Apple iPod Nano--from the front. It's roughly as tall and wide as the Nano, it has a big color screen, and its thumbwheel is surrounded by four navigation buttons. Priced at $229 (as of 4/13/06), the 4GB e260 costs $20 less than a 4GB iPod Nano.
The e260 offers some attractive extras the iPod Nano doesn't: a built-in microphone, an FM tuner, a bigger color screen, PlaysForSure compatibility for online music subscriptions, video playback, and a microSD Card slot so you can expand the memory (a 1GB card costs about $50). Also, you can change the rechargeable lithium ion battery yourself,
Despite the similarity in size to the Apple player, the e260 is more noticeable when in a shirt pocket. It's almost twice as thick as the iPod Nano, and is significantly heavier (2.7 ounces vs. 1.6 ounces). The e260's mechanical thumbwheel is convenient for scrolling through long song lists but can be difficult to turn. Also, because it protrudes from the faceplate, I found it difficult to get to the navigation buttons when operating the player with one hand. In addition, the e260 is slow to start up, taking about 8 seconds.
In PC World's new audio-quality tests, the e260 scored lower overall than any other flash-based player. Our test equipment measured more noise in the e260's audio than we found in the other players (the iPod Nano was the least noisy). The e260 also produced slightly more distortion than the iPod Nano, but less than that put out by a few other players we tested.
The e260 comes with Rhapsody software, but will also work with the Napster and Yahoo online music stores.
Radio reception from the FM tuner wasn't terribly clear when stationary, and I heard a lot of static when traveling in a car. The recordings I made of FM broadcasts were less impressive than the original broadcasts--some files were quieter on playback, and some had significantly more static than I heard originally.
The e260's screen is big, and photos look great on it. Sample photos are variously oriented horizontally or vertically, which requires you to turn the player during the demonstration slide show. But all the photos I loaded displayed horizontally, failing to take advantage of all of the screen's real estate; maddeningly, the manual fails to explain how to orient photos to fill the screen. Another gripe: You have to use SanDisk's Media Converter software to load photos or videos onto the e260 because the player does not natively support any image or video formats, not even JPEG.
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