Pros: Easy to use with Windows Media Player, uses a conventional AAA battery, FM tuner
Cons: No "iPod" bragging rights, no color screen, can't play video games
Its interesting how prolific Apples iPod players have become. Indeed, if you walk into any major electronics retailer, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of real estate dedicated to iPods. Go online and youll find an iPod cafe for accessories. Nobody celebrates buying an iRiver or Sandisk like they do an iPod. If you listen to the hype, you may forget that other brands of MP3 player even exist
I think it is only a matter of time before the word iPod replaces MP3 player in our lexicon. Kind of like how some people use the word Coke instead of cola or soda. I suppose its a nod to Apples wild success with this product, which made iPod and its derivative, podcast, words that we use on a daily basis.
Why Not an iPod?
Had I been shopping for an MP3 player six months ago, I would have purchased an iPod Nano (4 GB) for its combination of size, storage and universal appeal. I wanted to join the ranks of the Apple faithful and gloat over my purchase. A bit of time and research has changed that. Although the Sandisk m260 offers fewer features with less glitz, I found it to be a compelling choice over the Apple product.
Sandisk vs. Nano
I suspect one of the most stunning features of the Nano, besides its portable size, is that tiny 1.5 inch TV screen. The colors and picture clarity were simply amazing on the models I looked at. But I was left with a pressing question: why? Sure it was pretty, but it was just one more thing that could go wrong with the player. I cant imagine that the player would be very robust or durable with the screen. And what do I need it for, anyway? Isnt it enough that I can vegetate in front of the TV or computer in the privacy of my own home? Do I really need to watch television programming while I eat lunch or carpool? The LCD screen with Indiglo backlighting on my Sandisk is more than sufficient for my needs. If you plan to watch TV programming or display pictures with your MP3 player, then you may wish to consider an iPod.
There are features that the Nano offers that the Sandisk does not: a calendar, alarm clock, a to-do list and video games. (Who needs all that on an MP3 player? Not me!) The Sandisk, on the other hand, offers a few features not found on the Nano: an FM tuner with 20 presets, a stopwatch and voice recorder. Overall, I feel like I am getting a dedicated music player with the Sandisk, whereas the iPod seems to be trying too hard to be too many things.
Using the Sandisk
The m260 packs 4 gigs (GB) of non-expandable flash memory which should be good for approximately 1000 songs. The player roughly has the dimensions of a triple-sized lipstick, cut in half (long-wise) semi-cyndrilical in shape. For the most part, operating the player is fairly intuitive via the traditional play/pause/FF/REW buttons found on the flat surface of the player. Whats not quite so intuitive is turning the darn thing on, as there is no off/on button! You have to press and hold the MENU button. Getting the player turned on and off takes a few seconds. Once you learn to navigate the player, it is fairly easy to sort songs by various categories. The backlight and contrast of the LCD player can be adjusted. Since I use my player in a well-lit gym, I keep the backlight off to conserve the battery. One of the features I appreciate the most, and which should be standard on any music player, is a customizable equalizer.
Ease of Use
One major consideration for my MP3 player was ease of use: I wanted to be able to get music onto my player quickly and easily. This meant compatibility with Windows Media Player (WMP) so that I could tap into my existing music library and avoid ripping my CDs again with different software. In this area, the Sandisk has been excellent. Without so much as reading the manual, I was able to hook up the player via the included USB cable and fumble through the sync feature on WMP. Within a couple of hours, I had 400+ songs saved to the player. Each song is tagged with album, artist and song information. Music can be sorted based on a number of categoriesalbum, artist, genre, etc., and even the year of the song.
One note on compatibility: If your computer does not have WMP, you may install it with the included CDROM, but be aware that you will need Windows XP with a Service 1 Pack. If you already have WMP on a computer using an older, non-XP Windows version, not to worry, you can still transfer music files to the player. Your computer should recognize the player as a mass storage device.
Along with getting music onto the player quickly, I also wanted the ability to create a playlist onboard the player. The Sandisk allows for that with a few pushes of a button, I can create a favorites list of up to 30 songs. You cannot delete songs on the player, however; deleting songs requires the player to be hooked up to the computer.
A major consideration for me was the type of battery used by the iPod. I have a basic distrust of built-in batteries. Despite their long playing time, lithium ion batteries have a way of sputtering out at the worst times times when I really want to listen to my music and its not convenient to charge. The Pod charges via the USB port? How inconvenient is that?
Since my MP3 player would be first and foremost a running partner, albeit mostly on a treadmill, I wanted to avoid the hassle and frustration of having to recharge my player. The m260 uses a single AAA battery for an advertised play time of 19 hours not too shabby. And the best part is that the battery can be replaced quickly and relatively cheaply.
Here are a few reasons to choose the m260 over the Nano:
1) Easy to use with Windows XP and WMPquick hook up and music transfer;
2) Conventional battery--respectable play time and easy to replace;
3) FM tuner for variety;
4) Dedicated to playing music without trying to be a multi-media player;
5) Price--I purchased mine for $199 and found the next day that the price had fallen to $159, giving the m260 an advantage over the 4 gig Nanos $250 (or so) price tag.