Coming from nowhere, SanDisk is suddenly the number-two seller of MP3 players in the US, thanks in part to its strategy of offering shedloads of features at a budget price. Some of SanDisk's latest offerings introduced at CES include the high-end Sansa e200 series and the more basic Sansa c100 series. The polished c100 series -- which reminds us of a stockier Cowon iAudio U3 -- comes in 1GB (Sansa c140, £85) and 2GB (Sansa c150, £115) sizes and features a small 31mm (1.2-inch), 65k colour screen. Apart from subpar battery life and poor recording performance, the SanDisk Sansa c100 series is good overall value with a decent set of features.
Both models in the c100 series look identical, measure 79 by 23 by 36mm, and weigh 45g. Although aimed at the budget crowd, the SanDisk Sansa c100 offers a 31mm, 65k-colour screen with support for JPEG photos and album art. Of course, this tiny widescreen unit is much too small to show off photos seriously, and you must convert pictures before viewing, using the included Sansa Media Converter application. On a positive note, its album-art display and simple icon-based menu system lend the otherwise bland c100 a hint of luxury.
Based loosely on the m200 series, the SanDisk Sansa c100 has an updated tactile five-way controller, as well as dedicated menu and volume buttons. The menu button, which also serves as a Back button, is critical to the c100's ease of navigation. The side opposite the volume buttons includes a hold switch and a pinhole microphone. The headphone jack is on top, and the proprietary USB port is on the bottom. The back of the unit houses a AAA battery. Overall, the unit has a cheap, plastic feel like its predecessor, but as the SanDisk faithful often voice, build quality often does not make (or break) an MP3 player, especially an affordable one. We balk at the proprietary USB port, though -- the m200 series has a standard mini-USB port.
The SanDisk Sansa c100's menu system is intuitive and organised logically. You can browse tracks by artist, album, song, genre, playlists, Audible talking books and recordings. The only negative we noticed was the cumbersome process of sifting through 1GB of files on a four-line display with three songs showing at a time -- the iPod nano and its Click Wheel are much more efficient.
For a budget flash-based player, the SanDisk Sansa c100 series has its fair share of features, including MP3, WMA DRM (purchase and subscription) and Audible playback, a voice recorder, an FM tuner/recorder and photo support. The FM tuner has a decent signal, and it features an autoscan function and 13 presets. The voice and FM recorder both capture in a low-bit WAV format, and quality isn't crystal clear by any means. Voice recording is below average, with copious amounts of extraneous noise and clicking sounds if you touch the device while recording.
As far as music playback is concerned, we had good luck getting the SanDisk Sansa c100 to work with subscription files from Yahoo Music Unlimited and Napster. The device communicates with Windows Media Player via MTP, but it can also be set to MSC or UMS for drag-and-drop simplicity, even on Macs.
Additional features include a single on-the-go playlist, as well as slide shows and simultaneous MP3-listening and photo-viewing capabilities. Excellently implemented, the SanDisk Sansa c100's context menu button opens up a few options -- such as shuffle, repeat, and additions to the Go playlist -- when in playback mode, though we think it should include equaliser options. Bundled accessories include a proprietary USB cable, a standard pair of earbuds, a lanyard, a quick-start guide and a software CD with a full user's guide.
With low but perceptible background hiss, the SanDisk Sansa c100 series' sound quality is decent if a tad thin, and the maximum volume is underwhelming. The five equaliser presets (Normal, Classical, Jazz, Pop and Rock) and the five-band custom equaliser add some warmth. We also noticed a slight background click when starting songs.
Battery life is rated for 15 hours -- not bad for a rechargeable player such as the iPod nano but painful for a AAA-powered device such as the c100. We expect at least 20 hours from nonrechargeable batteries -- you'll be replacing them all the time if you're a heavy user. The player might well be inexpensive, but you'll make up the difference in batteries soon enough.
Edited by Jasmine France
Additional editing by Nick Hide