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SanDisk Sansa e260R
The SanDisk Sansa e260R is similar to the Sansa e260, but this model features slick integration with Best Buy's Digital Music Store, which is powered by RealNetworks' Rhapsody 4.0 service. The player costs $180 at Best Buy (as of 1/9/07), but you can also buy it directly from SanDisk or the Rhapsody Web site. The player we tested has 4GB of memory, but models are also available in 2GB, 6GB, and 8GB capacities. A slot for a tiny microSD Card lets you expand the memory, or switch easily among a variety of media files on several cards. SanDisk's own brand of cards cost $70 for 1GB and $120 for 2GB at the company's Web site.
The player is roughly as tall and wide as the iPod Nano, but it's a little thicker and weighs nearly twice as much. It has a relatively large and bright 1.8-inch color screen, though it's still too small for watching long videos. Beneath the screen, a rotating plastic thumbwheel lets you scroll through lists and adjust the volume. A select button sits at the center, and four directional buttons surround it. Because the thumbwheel protrudes from the faceplate and has a ridged surface, it makes operating the directional buttons difficult and uncomfortable. This strange design ruins the otherwise smooth interface.
The Rhapsody software helps you manage your music collection and connects seamlessly to the Best Buy Digital Music Store. For $15 per month, you can transfer as much music as you like to the e260R. This includes Rhapsody Channels, which update with new music automatically each time you sync your player. You can choose from hundreds of channels, organized by genre, or program a custom channel to your own tastes. The preprogrammed channels are a great way to discover new music and in my opinion are preferable to listening to the frequent rotations and commercials on FM radio. Plus, you can always skip ahead to the next track. You can also create a custom channel and enter up to ten artists; Rhapsody mixes their songs with those of similar artists it believes you may like.
Once you've purchased Rhapsody tracks (at 89 cents a pop), you can burn them to CD, which also lets you continue to listen to them on the player if you cancel your membership. If for some reason you don't like Rhapsody, a setting lets you switch to PlaysForSure mode, where the player behaves like the regular Sansa e260 and works with online stores such as Napster, Urge, and Yahoo.
The Rhapsody software syncs only music to the player. To upload photos and videos, you must use the included SanDisk Media Converter, which converts them to its own format. Annoyingly, the player doesn't natively support any standard image or video formats, not even JPEG.
The e260R has a built-in FM tuner and you can record live radio, though there's no timer for scheduling recordings. The headphone's cord acts as an antenna, and reception can vary as you move around. The tiny built-in microphone works well for voice recording. Unlike with many audio players, you can change the e260R's battery yourself; a $20 battery kit even includes a screwdriver for easy removal of the four small screws on the back of the player. That's worth remembering when a salesperson tries to justify Best Buy's $30 two-year product-replacement plan.
In our audio-quality tests, the e260R fared no better than the regular e260. It received a very low score in our frequency-response test, where we play a sequence of tones from 20 Hz to 20 kHz and measure the deviation between them. Music didn't sound as lively as it did on other players when I listened through a good pair of headphones.
The Sansa e260R would be a great player for sampling a constantly changing blend of music from Rhapsody's $15 monthly service. However, the player's low audio quality and uncomfortable thumbwheel make it hard to recommend.
This story, "SanDisk Sansa e260R" was originally published by PCWorld.
SanDisk Sansa e260R
Offers slick Rhapsody online music store integration, but ease of use needs improvement, and sound quality is lackluster.