Pros: Elegant, sturdy, intuitive - great sound.
Cons: Not compatible with iPod / iTunes.
Note I have written a similar review on the 2GB version of this mp3 player. There are similarities in my opinion, but I have throughly revised and updated the review based on my experiences with the 4GB version. I note that I bought the 4GB version after my daughter lost her 2GB version I gave her my old 2GB player and treated myself to the 4GB. This in itself is a testament to the player, as my experiences with the 2GB made me want to buy the 4GB player.
Everyone owns an iPod or so it seems. With the introduction of the iPhone, and the latest versions of the iPod coming out with improved interfaces, a cool touch screen and a link to arguably the best music website (iTunes) one wonders why anyone would bother buying a player that competes with the iPod.
An area that seemingly is becoming more important, albeit a relative unknown area is subscription music. Rumors abound that Apple will be introducing a subs service, or a pay one download all service. With Best Buy and Circuit City heavily promoting different subscription services, Sansa has teamed up with Yahoo Music (soon to be transferred to Rhapsody), but also can be used with the award winning (legal) Napster service.
What these subscription services offer is unlimited downloads to your PC or 3 mp3 players as long as you continue to pay a monthly subscription fee; they also offer a pay as you go download service.
They all use a system call PFS (plays for sure), a Microsoft product that is an industry standard for the subscription industry (aside from Microsoft&'s own subscription service available with Zune!).
It seems that the subscription service is becoming the way of the future, and is a service that the labels are keen to adopt as it guarantees a steady stream of revenue (CD sales are diminishing, and although digital sales are good, they do not make up for the loss of revenue in CD sales).
Like the 2GB player, the 4GB player is very sturdy. It is relatively heavy, and this gives you confidence in the ability of the player to survive being dropped add to this the fact that the memory is flash memory and Id suspect that a drop would only scratch the player and do no real harm I note I have not dropped the player, and do not intend to do so just for this opinion!
My previous experience with mp3 players included a Creative Labs piece of junk that my daughter dropped on the first day as it had a disk drive, it failed immediately this is why I tend to buy mp3 players with flash memory. I also had an iPod nano while it generally was a very good player, and was very small it didnt seem to feel like a decent player I know the Appleites will scream at me, but thats how I felt!
I want the mp3 player to feel good, have some weight and give me confidence in its longevity they may simply be perception, but it made me feel good.
One thing I do like about this player is that it looks good again this doesnt really matter but part of the beauty of the iPod is that it looks good and makes you feel cool the look of the Sansa is distinct and while it does borrow from the iPod look, it again makes me feel good to have the mp3 player with me.
After opening the box, with a trusty pair of scissors and a lot of frustration I might add, I quickly skim the manual having had the 2GB version, I note that there are not any differences and as the player has a little charge in it, I turned the player on immediately went to the music / picture / movie folders and deleted the free music etc that comes with the player. While some of the free samples are not that bad, I just find that I end up deleting them eventually so I deleted them straight away.
I went straight down to my PC, plug in the provided USB cable, and was pleased that Windows Vista immediately recognized the player. One advantage of plugging the cable in is that the mp3 player is getting charged as I begin to upload songs. The other thing that happens, is that windows automatically opens a window and gives you various options on how to upload songs to the player. I chose to log in to Yahoo Music and went from there! (I note that in some circumstances, you have to mess with Yahoo Music to get your player to work as most subscription services limit the number of mp3 players you can use, you have to delete any old players you have to allow the new player to download subscription songs on the Yahoo Music this is particularly non-intuitive!
The Sansa player itself is very intuitive to use; the controls are fairly simple; the usual play, pause, fast forward, rewind keys are available - they are a little small but you soon get used to it.
The wheel that surrounds the keys is a little strange to get used to if youve never used it, but after a little practices it becomes very intuitive. The wheel can be used to navigate the menu system (which is mostly icons that you can click), but also allows you to turn the volume up or down. I found that after using it for a while, I was able to control the mp3 player very easily - I also note that while driving, I constantly play with the wheel (*grin* OK so it sounds a little perverse, but somehow fun!).
One thing you need to do immediately is to update the firmware on the mp3 player. It is easy to do and fairly intuitive, but its a little annoying that this isnt done automatically in the background on my old 2GB player, it took me a while to realize that I had to update the firmware before I could use my subscription service (the manual does note this, but who reads a manual!!!)
Like all mp3 players these days you get a CD with some useful software. The Sansa CD comes with a CD with Media Converter software. According to the instructions, using the converter should improve your experience with the Sansa player. When I got my 2GB Sansa I really didnt look at this software. Having purchased the 4GB Sansa I decided to look a little closer and that is all it ended up being as I use a subscription service, which require you to log into the subscription service to download songs, the included software wasnt really that useful to me. It does seem to make the process of loading mp3s a little easier, but as I havent burned many mp3s to my PC, I didnt really find this software useful. It is a good piece of software though, that is uncluttered and seems simple to use.
There are several ways to copy music, files etc onto the player. You can use the Windows Explorer, a Sandisk program included on the disk, or the software you use with your download service (example Windows Media 11 etc). Simply dragging tracks to the player is easy and again intuitive. Ive had many discussion with iPod users on how easy iTunes is but for me, most music services are very similar, and once youve learned the method of downloading songs, it becomes easy.
I used Yahoo Music (subs service) to update my player and this was very seamless its even easy to create separate playlists through the service should you desire. I note that I used to have a problem on the 2GB player where I had to constantly manually update the licenses on my PC, but this seems to have been fixed on the recent update to Yahoo Music.
One annoyance with all mp3 players is the inability to download songs from iTunes you can purchases songs from iTunes, and then go through a process to convert them for the Sansa player, but this is time consuming and a pain there are a couple of songs that I would like to download (that are not available on the subscriptions services). This doesnt make me want an iPod, but I feel that this is unfair and restricts me. Ive found most of the tracks on other sites, but I should be allowed to use iTunes if I want to why should I have to buy an iPOD!!!!!
Like most mp3 players, you do have the ability to synchronise your PC and mp3 player generally I do not use this feature. For one, I have a subs service and therefore have many thousands of songs downloaded to my PC there is an option through Yahoo Music to automatically synchronize. However, for one thing, my player cannot hold thousands of songs and secondly I prefer to chose which songs to download to my player!
Most people use an mp3 player with headphones. The headphones include with the Sansa are good, and with the included equalizer on the player, it is possible to get quite a decent sound out of them however, to really get the best out of this player (and any other player) I would advise linking either to your home hi-fi or to your car speakers. I note that there are many speaker systems available for the Sansa (and for any other player), however if you have a decent sound system, then why buy another speaker just for your Sansa with the use of a simple cable, and the auxiliary port on your hi-fi (or car if your car sound system has one mine does) you can link your Sansa to it.
In my experience, your home hi-fi or car will have far superior sound than any stand-alone speaker system. I found that with the link to my car, the sounds was generally exceptional with the use of the Sansas equalizer I was able to vary the bass, tone etc and produce a quality of sound that matched any CD and in some cases was better.
The Sansa has some pre-built equalizer settings these are generally good and allow you to vary the output but I always end up tweaking the equalizer to find the perfect combination for me. I note that as I am not a music expert, I have no idea what settings I should use on the equalizer - I just messed around until I got the sound I wanted. What is cool is that you can mess around as a song is playing, so it's easy to change the sound to something you like.
One advantage that the Sansa has over the iPod is the inbuilt FM Player. For joggers this is probably useful, but for me, as I link it to my car radio it has no use. I also wonder why someone would buy an mp3 player and use it as a radio!
The radio tuner is very basic it allows you to search for stations and set them up as standard channels. I found that the reception was OK; many of the stations that my car picks up easily were not picked up on the player. All in all, this really isnt a great feature of the player.
I found that the stations I used were quite 'staticy' and overall not as good as a simple portable radio.
While not that useful to me, the voice recorder was actually pretty good. The sound quality was surprisingly good. It is fairly intuitive to use, and the Sansa has a built in microphone so theres no need to carry around an extra microphone in fact Im not even sure if you can plug one in!
Play back is simple and while Im not overly excited about this feature, it has uses.
The screen of the player is a good size and is pretty clear. The quality of the video is very good, and while it is nowhere near the quality of a TV it isnt bad for viewing on the move. It should be noted that due to limited memory size, youll soon fill the player up if you add large files. (I note that there is a memory expansion slot on the player that allows you to use micro-SD memory so my advice is to store all your movies, videos on the micro-SD memory. (I note that these are very small chips, so its essential that you find some way to carry these they get lost very easily!)
So far I havent had a problem with battery life. Generally I have found that the battery lasts about 12-14 hours. I constantly am adding music by using the USB link this has the added bonus of recharging the player as you upload music. One thing I note is that the battery indicator is a little small and therefore I sometimes dont realize that I am running out of battery power it would be useful to have a big flashing message telling me the battery life left.
Another useful feature of this player is that you can replace the battery. While it involves removing a few screws, I have been told that it is fairly easy to do, this is definitely a good feature that adds to the longevity of the player .
One gripe of mine so far is that when I upload files to the player, it plays them alphabetically. While you can use the menu to choose songs, or albums, it would have been useful for the player to play in the order I transferred the files. You can setup playlists (this is easier doing from the software rather than on the player), but this can be a pain.
The menu system that allows you to search for songs, albums etc allows you to add them to a favorites list, but as I am constantly changing songs on the player, it would have been better to let me manage this from my PC I note that this may be an option on the include CD software, but as I use a subscription service, this is no use to me!
The player comes with 4gb of memory and is preloaded with some free tracks, movies and pictures but after removing these you end up with about 3.8gb of free space. Depending on the size of the files you download you can get up to about 1000 songs on the player - in my experience I get between 600 and 700 songs. I note that having more than a couple of hundred songs on the player does become a little cumbersome. The 4gb of memory does allow you to store more videos on the player though, thus negating the need to carry so many of those tiny micro-SD chips
The player does however come with an expansion Micros SD slot this allows you to essentially have unlimited memory on the player. The Micro SDs are a little small, and it is sometimes difficult to put them in but this element adds longevity to the player.
I note that while this is a great feature on the 2GB player, I found that the more flash memory included the better hence the purchase of the 4GB player. It can be a pain to carry all the micro-SDs around having said that, it is also useful to be able to store movies etc on the micro-SD, freeing up your static memory. I found that I dont use the micro-SD to store music, as its easy to maintain all my music on the PC and then upload to the player as required (as the upload time is relatively quick, this isnt that much of a pain!).
What comes with it
Perhaps due to the price of the player, you only get the player, the headphones, a USB link and a cover for the player. While you can use the USB link to charge the player, it would have been nice to have a wall charger included. You can buy a wall charger or a car charger if required though.
I should point out that the cable isnt a standard link - it looks like the iPod link (not sure if it is) but should you damage the cable, you cant use the standard USB cable that comes with most media players (and cameras). Luckily for me, we now have four cables in the house so this isnt an issue for me yet. It would have been nice to have a wireless feature on the 4gb player though this is available on a newer Sansa player with 8GB, but the difference in price didnt justify the purchase.
The player is not compatible with Zune or iTunes. You can burn purchased tracks from these sites to a CD and then convert them for use on Sansa, this really is a pain and in most cases the quality of the song deteriates. Luckily most other music sites work with Sansa.
I do note that most music sites are moving towards mp3s that can be played on all players (Napster, Itunes etc), so this will not be an issue eventually.
One note, the Sansa uses Microsofts Play For Sure system (PFS). Microsoft themselves have abandoned this software with their own music store (Zune) - however as many manufacturers (including cell phone manufactures) are using the PFS system, its not going to disappear that soon. It is worth considering this though, especially if you dont intend to use a subscription service.
The Sansa plays the majority of formats available. WMA, mp3 etc all work seamlessly the Sansa also has the ability to play books from sources such as a library or a digital book subscription service.
I am not a great fan of the iPod - it is a nice little player but you are unable to use subscription services so its not for me. With the rumors regarding an Apple subscription surfacing, I may take a second look at the iPod eventually, but I suspect that as long as there are competing subscriptions around I will continue to buy Sansa. The quality is excellent, and I do not see much difference between this and an iPod the iPod may have a better interface, but this is secondary for me as I am looking for a quality sound.
This little player is excellent - it is cheaply priced and is expandable. The sound quality is excellent and overall the use of the player is intuitive.
As an alternative to the iPod, its probably the best.
Music Site that work with the player
Yahoo Music: music.yahoo.com (Note this will soon become Rhapsody)