Review: Sansa View is a strong media player value in a big package

It has twice the memory of a Nano, plays video exceptionally well, plus has an FM radio

In a world in which gadgets are getting even smaller, SanDisk Corp.'s new Sansa View is, strangely, significantly larger than both its competitors and its own predecessor, the company's Sansa e200 line of media players.

Despite the extra heft, the View is a highly competent media player that is particularly adept at playing videos. Perhaps most notably, the Sansa View is an exceptional value, with the 16GB version I tested selling for $199, the same price as Apple Inc.'s 8GB Nano. An 8GB Sansa View is available for $149.

Beside having twice the memory, the Sansa View offers several features that the Nano doesn't have. It has a 2.4-in. screen compared to the Nano's 2-in. display, a microSD slot for extra storage and an FM radio. The bottom line is that if you can get past the Sansa View's inexplicably large size and a few other minor irritations, this player is a compelling choice for the value-conscious.

Out of the box

The Sansa View's comparatively large size is noticeable immediately upon taking it out of the box. Not that the View is humongous at 4.3 inches by 1.9 inches (it's .4 inches thick and weighs 2.9 ounces).

<br></br>SanDisk's Sansa View media player

SanDisk's Sansa View media playerIt still fits in the front pocket of my jeans, but unlike other recently released media players such as Creative's Zen, the Sansa View wasn't unobtrusive; I could feel the device in my pocket.

Despite its size, the 2.4-in. display is a bit smaller than the Creative Zen's 2.5-in. screen, even though Creative's device is an inch shorter and just a quarter-inch wider. I was left wondering why the Sansa View is as large as it is.

The View's controls are quite pleasing to use. In particular, it sports a thumbwheel (with a selection button in the middle) for navigating through menus and changing the volume. Above the wheel is a button for going to the home menu screen.

The display operates in portrait mode when playing music and navigating menus and in landscape mode for viewing still images and videos, automatically switching between the two modes depending on what media is playing. A visually attractive feature is the three back-lit icons on the front face of the device -- one for the menu button, one for pause/play and another that takes you to a menu of options for the specific item you are playing. When you switch from portrait to landscape mode, those icons -- and the corresponding controls -- change their orientation so that, for instance, the play/pause is always at the top of the thumbwheel.

However, although the controls are satisfying, the View's underlying navigation leaves something to be desired. For the Sansa View, SanDisk slightly streamlined the interface it used on its e200 devices. That interface was fine in its time, but it has been surpassed by competitors.

I found it particularly irritating that there was no control for backtracking while playing a track. As a result, if I wanted to switch to another track, I couldn't go directly back to the list of artists or albums or genres that I previously had used. Instead, I pressed the button at the bottom of the clickwheel to go to the menu for that specific song. One of the options was to return to the list of songs from which I had chosen the current track, which I found to be a roundabout way to backtrack.

The Sansa View software is missing a handful of other useful capabilities such as bookmarking musical tracks so you can restart a track where you left off; that feature is available, however, for videos. Nor does it have an "add to selected" feature found in Creative's media players, which enables you to add songs on the fly to the list of items currently playing.

Sight, sound and extras

As its name suggests, SanDisk is positioning the Sansa View as a video player. And it does, indeed, play video quite well, with nary a hint of flicker or dropped frames. The display is bright and clear so, if videos are important to you and your budget is limited, the View is an excellent choice.

However, I have to wonder whether many people would watch many videos on a 2.4-in. screen, no matter how high the display quality; the best use of this class of devices is for audio. If SanDisk increased the size of the device to make viewing videos easier, it may well have miscalculated. And even if SanDisk is right and people will clamor to watch videos on such a small screen, the Creative Zen, while $50 more expensive, is smaller overall but has a slightly larger (2.5-in.) display.

The View, with its support of the microSDHC flash storage format, has a potential capacity of 24GB, which video fans will appreciate. That's triple the storage capacity of the iPod Nano, which doesn't have an add-on slot for storage.

Overall, sound quality was flat, or perhaps "even" is a better description. This isn't a bad thing; it has very good response in all ranges, but it doesn't excel in any portion of the aural spectrum. Some people like that sort of happy medium approach to sound, but I subjectively felt the Sansa View was missing the crisp presence found on iPods and on the Creative Zen I reviewed recently.

The View's audio and video support is strong with playback of MP3, protected and unprotected WMA, nonprotected AAC and .WAV formats, as well as support for Audible audiobooks. Its native video support includes MPEG3, WMV and H.264.

Beside solid video and audio playback, the Sansa View has a few nice extras. In particular, I was impressed with its 35-hour battery rating for audio playback (it's rated at seven hours for video playback). That's the longest rated battery life of any of the current generation of Nano-like media players. It also supports voice recording and, as mentioned previously, it has an FM radio.

Overall, SanDisk's new View is a full-featured device with only a few shortcomings, such as its size and navigation software that could use a bit more depth. However, for many, those shortcomings will be more than offset by its sheer value. It is $50 cheaper than the comparable Creative Zen and it is the same price, and has twice the native storage capacity, as the iPod Nano, plus it has a handful of features the Nano doesn't have.

David Haskin is a contributing editor specializing in mobile and wireless issues.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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