Customer Review

12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adequate player, but badly constructed with poor Rockbox support, October 16, 2007
This review is from: SanDisk Sansa e280 8 GB MP3 Player (Black) (Electronics)
An adequate digital music player, plagued by bad controls, poor firmware, and a lack of standards.

Pros:
- Inexpensive
- Nicely sized
- Bright, clear screen
- Played everything I gave it with no difficulties.
- FM Tuner and vocorder

Cons:
- Poorly engineered buttons and cheap, plasticky scroll wheel
- Sluggish performance
- Proprietary dock connector
- Rockbox support is incomplete

I'm an iPod refugee, who finally got sick of Apple's expensive peripherals, tight-fisted control over my music, and slow and bloated music library software. When I recently lost my iPod, I took the opportunity to try a new music player. Based on the reviews I read (OK, and the things I could get for free with my credit card points), I picked the 8GB Sansa.

As soon as I opened the box I was disappointed. The scroll wheel on the Sansa is cheap plastic, and rattles around in its track when you turn it. When I first touched it I thought it was some kind of packaging that was protecting the "real" scroll wheel, and that I needed to tear it off! The buttons on the Sansa are extremely hard to press -- they're very firm, small, and have no tactile feedback at all (i.e. no "click" when you press them). To make matters worse, it's nearly impossible to press the buttons around the scrollwheel with your thumb when your thumb is on the wheel -- I find myself shifting the Sansa in my hand every time I want to switch from scrolling to pushing. Overall, the Sansa's controls are extremely poor, shoddily designed and made with cheap materials.

Furthermore, the Sansa uses a proprietary dock connector, a la the iPod. This is ridiculous -- there's no reason for the Sansa not to use the industry-standard mini-USB connector, unless they think they can somehow wield patents on the dock connector design to drive up the price of peripherals. I was very disappointed with this.

Docking and syncing was thankfully easy. The Sansa supports the standard Media Transfer Protocol, so no driver or software install was necessary. I just plugged it into my Windows XP PC, chose some playlists to sync in Windows Media Player, and everything worked fine. I then installed MediaMonkey (which I highly recommend over WMP) and synced the Sansa with a set of playlists there, and again the sync worked well.

I had specifically planned to run Rockbox ([...] a free and open-source mp3 player firmware project, on my Sansa. The Rockbox install went without a hitch, however it was only then that I discovered that the Sansa cannot sync under Rockbox. Unfortunately Rockbox doesn't support USB communication on the Sansa -- it can only charge when you connect it to your PC. To sync, you have to turn off the Sansa, then plug it into your PC. The Sansa will boot up into the original firmware, which you can then use to sync. Furthermore, Rockbox doesn't support Sansa playlists -- I had to install a custom build of Rockbox with a plugin that could convert Sansa playlists to .m3u playlists on my player, an extra step that I have to perform for each playlist after syncing.

Another annoyance was moving Rockbox content (such as themes, album art, music files such as .ogg that aren't supported by the default Sansa firmware, and .m3u playlists) to and from my Sansa so that Rockbox could access it. To do so, one must switch the Sansa in its default firmware from "MTP" mode to "MSC" mode (where the Sansa acts like a normal USB drive). When the Sansa is in MSC mode, it takes literally 5-10 minutes to boot while it catalogs its content. Every time I would sync the Sansa to add more Rockbox content, I would have to sit there and wait while the player restarted. This is, to put it mildly, frustrating.

--

Overall, the Sansa is an adequate player. I've had no technical problems with it. However, its shoddy design, lack of standards, and poor compatibility with Rockbox make it impossible for me to recommend it to others.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 21, 2007 6:27:53 PM PDT
ts-x says:
Rockbox for the Sansa is still under development, you need to be patient. I've used Rockbox for years on my iRiver H340 and it is nothing short of outstanding.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2007 7:58:54 AM PDT
Agreed -- I don't blame the developers of Rockbox at all. I'm intimately familiar with how OSS projects work, and I know that they do what they can with the time that they have. However, if someone is shopping for an MP3 player specifically to run Rockbox on it, right now the Sansa is a poor choice.
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