SanDisk's first MP3 player, the Digital Audio Player, amazed everyone by quickly becoming number two in market share, though still well behind Apple's iPod. According to an NDP report, the aggressively priced flash-based player had 6.2 per cent of the US digital audio market in February. So it's no surprise that the company's new Sansa e140 is already a highly anticipated release. It has an updated look and feel, 1GB of flash memory and comes with a decent set of features.
At 55 by 74 by 14mm, the SanDisk Sansa e140 may not be the tiniest flash-based player (even some 5GB players are smaller), but it's very light at 51g with its single AAA battery. Despite the e140's durability, its feathery weight adds to its cheap, plastic feel -- glance at the buttons and you'd think this was a promotional item.
Overall, the interface is intuitive, with its large, tactile main controller buttons, though they are not touch-sensitive, despite appearances. The hold switch is on the left side, while the right side features the menu/power button, a handy expansion slot compatible with SD cards up to 2GB in capacity (conveniently available from SanDisk for about £130, but shop around), and a dodgy scrollwheel. The original SanDisk MP3 player was more compact and like a pack of chewing gum, but lacked the expansion slot. The e140 has a snappy silver and white colour scheme.
One shortcoming of the design is the scrollwheel, which is located on the upper-right corner. It feels cheap and isn't smooth like the one on the Rio Carbon -- not good, since it also acts as the volume control. In fact, adjusting the e140's volume is truly painful. Plus, this wheel isn't clickable; instead, you tediously hit the main Enter button to select. There is also an occasional processor lag of a second or two during navigation or song selection.
The Sansa e140 plays MP3, protected WMA and, handily, Audible files. The USB 2.0 device also has a stopwatch and an FM tuner with 20 autoscannable presets. However, it doesn't have a voice recorder, as the first SanDisk player did. While it lacks line-in and FM-recording capabilities, it has other useful features (FM tuner, large LCD and expansion slot) down pat.
The interface, which sorts music by Play All, Artist, Album, Songs, New Music, Spoken Word and other groupings, is simple to navigate, though the indigo-backlit LCD isn't the most legible we've used. Also, though the player breaks music into browsable groups, you can't listen to an album in order unless you append track names with numbers, and there is no playlist support.
Sound quality is not impressive at all, despite the five equaliser settings and the SRS Wow effects. Our test MP3s (which include Ikara Colt's Don't They Know and Bjork's Headphones) sounded dull, with noticeable background hiss. Also, the player couldn't adequately power a larger set of headphones. The FM-tuner scanning works well and reception is above average.
You get comfortable earbuds and an armband in the package, along with a USB cable and an AAA battery. The battery life is decent at 17.6 hours per AAA cell, compared to the company's rating of 17 hours. Transfer times over USB 2.0 were below average at 1.8MB per second. If you're a discerning listener, however, check out the Apple iPod Shuffle instead.
Edited by Jasmine France
Additional editing by Nick Hide