From its uninspired name to its been-there, played-that feature set, the SanDisk Digital Audio Player brings little innovation to the flash-player table. That said, it's not without its charms, including a roomy LCD, good battery life, and amazing street prices.
We tested the 512MB model. It's attractively styled in blue and silver. If you prefer red and/or a lower price tag, the 256MB model is cheaper. There's also an all-silver, 1GB version. The player in all sizes is available for less cash online and is widely considered as a value option.
About the size of a packet of chewing gum (albeit one with a battery compartment bulging in its back), the DAP sports a larger than average LCD. No squinting required here -- the four-line screen uses eyesight-friendly text and icons. It also packs in a wealth of information, including track number, elapsed time, a battery gauge, file-format and bit-rate icons, and even a level meter. Of course, the artist and song title are displayed as well, though on a single scrolling line rather than vertically. The line above is reserved for the folder name (or root if there isn't one) -- handy only if you use folders to divvy up your music.
The DAP weighs a mere 39g with its single AAA battery installed, meaning it's light enough to wear around your neck. In fact, there's a lanyard loop on top of the player. Alas, SanDisk doesn't supply a lanyard; instead, you get a clear-plastic case and a Velcro-tabbed armband.
Controls consist of a five-way joystick, three buttons, and a Hold switch. Users who like to replay segments of an audio track will appreciate the dedicated A-B button, which makes it a snap to select or discontinue segmented play. Unfortunately, that's where the simplicity ends. When no tracks are playing, the A-B button switches between audio, FM, and recording modes. Holding the same button down for two seconds brings up the equaliser. Short and long presses of the joystick also lead to different menus. Thus, the DAP's controls can be frustrating until you memorise all their nuances. It's not a dead simple iPod Shuffle, but it has more features than the new Apple phenomenon.
The DAP supports MP3, WMA, and DRM-protected WMA formats. You can drag and drop files to the player or use the included Musicmatch 9.0 Basic, a splendid music manager/store. (We highly recommend downloading version 10 from Musicmatch.) In our tests, files zipped from PC to player at the impressive rate of 6.54MB per second. Better still, the DAP played for more than 16 hours before needing a new battery. Of course, we'd still prefer a rechargeable cell, even if it means a bit less play time.
As an FM radio, the DAP delivers strong reception and a handy automemory feature that quickly creates presets from stations in range. However, you can't record radio, a feature available in many other players we've seen. The DAP includes a microphone for voice recording in WAV format, but you're limited to 32Kbps, 8KHz recordings -- and they sound terrible.
Music and radio sound much better, though not great. We quickly ditched SanDisk's painful hard-plastic earphones in favour of our stock Shure E3c's, but even then, the DAP couldn't compare with other players we tested. The music was flat and muted, though certainly loud enough for noisy trains and the like.
While the Digital Audio Player isn't a bad choice for the athletically inclined or those who have a hard time reading most flash-player screens, it has a few too many poor qualities for us to give a wholehearted recommendation. But for those looking for a bargain, the SanDisk Digital Audio player is ripe for the picking.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Tom Espiner