SanDisk Sansa m260
At a Glance
SanDisk Sansa m260 4GB MP3 Player (Internal Flash Drive, FM Tuner, 19 Hours)
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This flash player offers plenty of storage space and features for a reasonable price, but it's not easy to use.
SanDisk's Sansa m260 flash player shares the same 4GB storage capacity as Apple's high-end iPod Nano. And that's where any similarity between the two players ends. The m260, which costs $199 (as of 4/13/06), may offer more bang for the buck than the pricier iPod, but its overall quality and design fall short by comparison.
The 1.5-ounce device looks a lot like a small plastic flashlight cut in half lengthwise. On its flat face are a small monochrome display and five input buttons (four situated in an X-shaped configuration and one in the middle). Below the screen, partway around the barrel are a hold button and an integrated microphone; the menu and volume buttons reside above the screen. The headphone jack and mini-USB port reside on the end of the device.
While the unit fits comfortably in one hand, manipulating the buttons that way is nearly impossible--it's really a two-handed job. Overall the player feels flimsy, with buttons and a battery cover that rattle when you shake the device.
When you first turn the m260 on, it takes an annoyingly long time to initialize (about 18 seconds). A click on the menu button gives you access to the unit's top-level features that include play music, FM radio, recorder, settings, and stopwatch. You navigate your music library via artist, album, songs, favorites, genre, year, playlist, or spoken word. Unfortunately, sorting through 4GB of songs can be a bit tedious, as the screen can display only three lines of text at a time, and you have to click through each item one at a time.
The unit's codec support is fairly meager: MP3, WMA, Secure WMA, and Audible. In my subjective tests, audio quality seemed adequate; in PC World's new audio-quality tests, the unit earned an overall score of Very Good for its audio quality. On most tests, the m260 scored very well, though its audio contained more distortion and noise than most other players produced. The company rates battery life at 19 hours using one standard AAA battery, which is longer than that of most other flash players we tested.
SanDisk includes a serviceable set of earbuds and a cheapo silicon case with an armband. There's a CD with Microsoft's Windows Media Player, plus one download card from Audible.com for three free programs and another from Real for a monthlong trial subscription to the excellent Rhapsody To Go music service. You get a printed quick-start guide, but the full manual is on the CD.
The Sansa m260 is a decent little MP3 player, and for active music lovers who want 4GB of storage at a reasonable price, it's worth a look. However, if you want an easy-to-use device that puts equal weight on form and function, you should keep shopping.
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