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5/3/2006
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Review: Sansa e200 Music Player

SanDisk says it has an iPod killer on its hands--but is it only an iPod wannabe?

SanDisk suggests that its new e200 series of MP3 players are Apple iPod Nano killers. It's a bold claim. But these players largely succeed at providing more features for less money than the Nano (to which it bears a more-than-coincidental physical resemblance).

SanDisk became the second-leading seller of flash-based MP3 players by developing inexpensive, if somewhat clumsy and incomplete, devices. With the release of the e200 series -- I reviewed the 4GB e260 with 4GB of storage -- SanDisk is now also is competing on the basis of features and design elegance.

For about twenty bucks less that the iPod nano with the equivalent amount of memory, this look-alike includes an FM radio, a microSD expansion card slot and a handful of other advantages. And, yes, it's sexy, although not as sexy as the Nano.

Inevitable Comparisons

Sex sells. And since SanDisk clearly made the e200 look like the nano on purpose, let's start there. With dimensions of 3.5 inches by 1.74 inches by .56 inches, the e200 is a hair shorter and wider than the nano, but is roughly twice as thick. Like nano, it has a metal backing. Unlike the nano, it has a larger 1.8-inch color display. Given those similarities, the two devices look quite similar -- from a distance.

As you get closer, some differences become obvious, such as the controls. Both devices have round controls, but while the nano's click wheel controls are flush to the device itself, the Sansa has five raised buttons and a raised round scroll wheel, which lights up in electric blue when you turn it. Most of the raised buttons around the scroll wheel perform the same functions as the similar buttons on the nano, with one major exception. The top button pauses and re-starts music while the similar button on the nano displays the menu. A separate button in the lower left corner of the e200 displays the menu and doubles as an on-off switch.

Functionally, this system is slightly less easy to use than the nano because the raised scroll wheel reduces access to the navigation buttons. In my tests, that wasn't really a big issue, even with my big hands. But the bottom line is that the industrial design of the Sansa e200, while quite strong and derivative, doesn't quite match that of the iPod nano. It easily equals, however, its non-iPod competitors from vendors such as Creative Labs and iRiver.

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