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I was asked a question in the forums towards earlier this month about when the next generation of iPods would appear. It is a question every tech journo on the planet would like to know, but the simple answer is it better be soon because the opposition has suddenly jumped ahead.
Interestingly, the ‘opposition’ in question comes from an unlikely source. SanDisk is a company more traditionally associated with flash memory (it has manufacturing rights over every standard), but recently it has drummed up attention with its extensive advertising and eye catching ‘un-iPod’ campaign. If you’re going to slag off the Feline Obsessed White Fetish however you better have something pretty special up your sleeve and thankfully it does.
The new Sansa e200 series is a direct bitch slap to the iPod nano. It comes in three sizes: 2GB – e250; 4GB – e260 and 6GB – e270 and to say it borrows extensively from the uber-popular little player’s styling would probably be like saying Oasis found some musical inspiration from the Beatles. Unlike the mono-browed Mancunians however, the e260 that I have been testing for the last two weeks is far more than a pale imitation. In fact, it batters its illustrious competitor in nearly ever area.
In typical Gordon fashion then let’s begin with an area where this doesn’t happen: size. At 89 x 44mm the e260 has a near identical footprint to the nano (90 x 40mm) but with a thickness of 13mm it is nearly twice as deep as Apple’s bulimic little player. The reason for this is simple: it has oodles more functionality and the major brownie point is video. Quite simply, the e200 series has it and the nano doesn’t but couple it with the fact that the e200s all sport larger (45.7mm v 38.1mm), brighter, automatically landscape playing screens and you’ll begin to see this is more than a mere gimmick.
The player itself runs QuickTime .mov files but the simple drag and drop converter software it comes with can rip anything from AVI to Mpeg-1, 2 and 4 to WMV and even DVDs directly onto the device itself. Conversion time is quick (though processor dependant) with my 1.7GHz Pentium M laptop transposing a 700MB AVI in 20 minutes. This is less than half the time it takes me to perform a similar operation in iTunes and all videos retain their original aspect ratios.
Playback itself is at 15fps – the same as the full size ‘video’ iPod – but it actually looks far smoother under direct comparison. This in part may be because of the smaller screen (30GB and 60GB iPods have 63.5mm displays) though that alone feels like doing the new e260 a disservice. Battery life is far superior too. SanDisk doesn’t quote official figures, but I managed to get just over six hours before the device conked out. Compare that with measly two for the 30GB iPod and four for the hefty 60GBer and you’ll see there’s just enough to support a transatlantic flight (taking into account the ‘banned’ periods after take off and before landing!).