Please note that a change has been made to this review. See page 4 for details.
Memory goliath SanDisk continues its assault on the flash-based MP3 player market with the launch of the flagship Sansa e200 series, along with the budget-class Sansa c100 series. The SanDisk Sansa e200 series represents a departure from previous Sansa players, thanks to a higher-quality form factor and a bushel of cutting-edge features such as photo and video support, music-subscription compatibility, a user-removable battery, a microSD expansion slot and a tactile Click Wheel-type controller system.
The e200 comes in 4GB (£150) and 2GB (£120) varieties, as well as the flagship 6GB version (£180), the last of which is known currently as the highest-capacity flash-based player in the world. While the e200 still doesn't match the £179 iPod nano in design flair and simplicity, it is definitely a premium choice when it comes to a compact flash-based MP3 player, with more features and a better price point than its main competitor.
The e200 does have a few negative points, but its biggest hurdle will be convincing consumers that the 6GB version, just £40 or so less than bulkier 30GB players like the iPod and Zen Vision:M, is still good value. The players will be available in late March.
The sturdy and sharp-looking SanDisk Sansa e200 measures 43 by 13 by 89mm, weighs 74g, and has a maximum capacity of 6GB (about 1,500 songs), currently the highest capacity for a flash player. All three capacities look and feel the same. Although it's almost twice as thick and heavy as a nano, the e200 is still compact and it boasts a liquid-metal back panel that won't scratch. Likewise, the black plastic on the front doesn't scratch nearly as easily as the nano's. In terms of raw size and sleekness, the nano still reigns supreme.
The SanDisk Sansa e200's 46mm (1.8-inch) screen is oriented in portrait mode, and gives the user plenty of real estate for navigation. It's much bigger than the nano's 38mm (1.5-inch) screen. Videos are viewed holding the e200 in landscape orientation. Although the screen is bright and colourful, it has a maximum resolution of only 220x176 pixels and 65k colours, though SanDisk says it's possible that a future version could go up to 260k colours. Therefore photos, videos and album art won't dazzle. However, the colour interface, coupled with the well-designed menu system, gives the player a premium feel.
Below the screen is SanDisk's version of the Click Wheel -- but this one is mechanical rather than touch-sensitive. The thin, circular dial (smaller than the nano's smooth Click Wheel), with raised bumps and grooves, gives the wheel a tactile quality that makes navigating the e200 precise if not a pleasure. Rather than a smooth motion, there is some resistance that gives the right amount of feedback. Zeroing in on items is no problem, and browsing through huge lists is a breeze, especially given that the e200's lists can be navigated backwards -- that is, unlike with the iPod, you can go from A to Z without having to zoom through the entire library. Still, the dial is no match for the smooth iPod Click Wheel, particularly because it is easier on the thumb joint. The e200 may even give your thumb a callous.