Thursday, May 3, 2007

Singing a Sweet Tune

SanDisk’s Sansa m200 series players offer plenty of features and value, all of which is sweet music to a consumer's ear.

Product Review: Sansa m240 1GB MP3 Player

When Apple made a splash the size of a tidal wave in the portable music player market with its iPod, we’ve seen a drastic shift in the technology, price and benefits available to consumers in this field. In what has been a very short amount of time, the iPod and a slew of other players have all but buried the Discman and cassette Walkmans of yore.

While I will not doubt that the iPod has, and continues to, set the standard in this category, there have been other MP3 players that have quietly come along and offer some really good value for the music-thirsty public. One of these players is the Sansa m240 MP3 player from San Disk.

Meet your new best friend in affordable portable digital entertainment. And you won't need to pull out the sofa bed when he stays over. Photo courtesy

Product Overview:

Computer accessory company SanDisk entered the MP3 player market with its line of Sansa brand players. The m240 product appears to be aimed at the lower end of the target price market, and on a good day, this 1GB unit can be found on sale for just under $50. The feature package, as we will discuss in greater detail, also seems economical as there isn’t all the fancy razzle-dazzle typical of other higher end players.

The Sansa m240 and other m200 series players accept MP3 and WMA file formats, which are loaded to the unit via a USB interface. They use one standard AAA battery as the power source, and come with some extra goodies such as a built-in FM radio and a voice recorder.

They give you everything but the kitchen sink! However, the USB cable comes up a little short.

When purchased, most player packages also come fully stocked with some interesting accessories. Except for the non-included battery, the 1GB model comes with everything necessary to get you up and humming to your favorite tune, namely: earbud headphones, a USB cable, starter software, a protective plastic case, a wristband and a promotional offer to an online music service. All in all, I was fairly impressed with this accessory package and will cover this in greater detail below.

Product Line:

The Sansa m200 product line is in the lower tier of San Disk’s playback product suite, a bit more streamlined and feature-packed than the e100 series but below the colour screen flash-based c100/200 series and the flagship e200 line.

The m200 series is a set of physically identical devices featuring the same functions and styling, and differ only from one another by their colour-coded memory capacity (silver is the colour for 1GB capacity). The 1GB version holds well over 200 MP3 songs, which translates to about 16 hours of music.

I chose the 1GB version because I felt it offered the best solution to my needs: having enough music storage space for some serious playlist variety while not breaking the bank.


The price of the Sansa 1GB MP3 player has been steadily dropping since the 2GB and 4GB versions came out. I’ve seen current average retail prices in the $70 range, but as mentioned above, sale prices can be found below $50, which makes this product a serious contender to any budget conscious consumer. Seeing as this player is available almost everywhere (no joke folks, I’ve seen it at some of the big box hardware and grocery stores, as well as in a few pharmacy chains), a sale shouldn’t be too hard to find if you’re patient.

I’d strongly recommend shopping around and waiting for a sale; you’ll surely be rewarded in the wallet and get a great deal.

Appearance and Design:

This MP3 player is very unique in shape and style, but can appear a bit bulky as its counterparts have gone for flatter, thinner designs. It looks as if SanDisk started out with the AAA battery envelope and designed the case around that, giving a sort of a funny bumpy-oval prism with an extended face for the keypad. Despite this peculiar shape, it is fairly ergonomic and can still fit into your pocket. I was actually surprised as how well it fit into the palm of my hand, and I appreciate the fact that the buttons are easily within reach and other critical functions are always at your fingertips.

You'll have this little player in the palm of your hands ... literally.

The unit itself weighs around 40 grams, which is lightweight by MP3 standards. The plastic casing seems somewhat cheap, especially the flimsy battery access door. Considering how often it is required to change the battery, you’d think it would be a little more rugged.

The plastic cover is a must if you will be leaving the player in your pocket or bag for extended periods of time. The cover works well in protecting from scratches and other cosmetic damage (I've had it my briefcase, drawer and gym bag without any noticeable marks). However, it doesn't exactly fit as well as it should, most likely due to the fairly complex shape of the unit. You’ll find it’ll be loose at the corners, and the openings for the buttons and plugs will be a little off, giving a somewhat clumsy look when compared to other high-end devices. (I've always liked protective covers to fit as tightly as Michelle Pfeiffer’s catwoman suit in Batman Returns).

The tailoring could have been a bit better on this raincoat.

While the stock cover is still passable, I'd recommend to any disapprovers to pick up one of the tighter fitting, better-looking aftermarket covers available for sale. Do a search on your favorite shopping site or visit a large enough electronics store and you should these glove-like covers in various colours at reasonable prices.

Switching to this aftermarket cover is like comparing your lady in a frumpy sweater to a low-cut spandex top. Photo courtesy of


While I am not the pickiest audiophile, the sound quality is good enough for the price of the unit. Don’t expect to be fooled into thinking you’re listening to a live performance, but you’ll find that the audio range is there.

The headphones are of average quality, but then again I won’t hold any shortcomings here against the unit. Headphones are the easiest component to replace, so if you’re not satisfied pick up a higher-end aftermarket set. The sound is fairly crisp, even after heavy use (jogging, etc) and the earbuds are comfortable. There is no included pocket or sack for the headphones, so I recommend wrapping them in the little Ziploc bag that the player comes packed in. If you don’t, those little foam coverings will gather every single crumb and speck of lint they can find in the bottom of your pocket, briefcase or bag.

The buttons are wide and clearly identified, which is great news for large fingered gents such as myself. You do have to press fairly hard on them though, as they are of conventional technology (no fancy tactile sensors or “chocolate” technology here)… but then again, this is not really a deficiency in my book.

If you love pushing people’s buttons, you’ll have no trouble with these landing pads.

The screen is a minimal 3 line monochrome LCD, but it is one of the better ones I’ve seen in lower-end MP3 players. The information displayed is clear and concise (genre, scrolling title & artist, time elapsed / total time interchanges with volume and a constant battery power monitor); thankfully there are no display frills such as distracting “visualizations” that are more fit for inducing an epileptic seizure rather than enhance your music listening experience. Visibility of the text could have been better, especially with the blue backlighting on, but the fonts are fairly large enough to be easily understood.

If black and white was good enough to watch Jackie Gleason, it’s good enough for my song titles.

Loading music onto the unit is easy and straight forward. No special “music loading” programs are required to get the music off your hard drive and onto the player (thumbs up for this) - you simply attach the unit via USB to the computer, it is recognized as a removable drive, and then you just drag and drop your songs onto it. I really suggest using it on machines having USB 2.0 despite the fact that it is backwards compatible, as the difference in speed is quite noticeable. I did a quick test and found it froze or hung on my older machine with its older operating system (Win 98 original edition).

Plug her in and load her up. Unleaded fuel only, please.

The only real thing that bothered me here is that the stock USB cable comes up a little too short for my liking at 9 inches (I’ve eaten subs bigger than that!). This won’t be a problem if you have a newer computer with USB ports coming out the front of the unit or the monitor sides, but can be an issue on older machines, or in areas like the office where the computer is stored under a desk. Luckily, I had an extension with a 4X USB hub, so I was spared from bending behind and searching the dusty nether regions of my PC’s backside just to upload some tunes. Not a biggie, but I doubt a few more inches of cable would have hurt.

The easiest way to make playlists is to make sure you fill out your ID3 tags before uploading your files to the player. Just because the file name is correct doesn’t mean the player will magically recognize it. Without the genre and song info filled in, you’ll basically be flying blind when navigating through your songs and be unable to perform any effective sort of your music. By default, the songs are stored in order of name, so you can also make your mix by adding numbers in front of your filename (001, 002, etc.)

Battery life is another area for improvement, as the single AAA battery is rated at about 19 hours of continuous play. When I purchased the unit, I was hoping this rating was a cautious understatement, but to be honest, they’re bang on if not being over-optimistic. My recommendation is to either buy yourself a set of rechargeable batteries and keep one on the juice while the other in your player, or stick to the heavy duty battery brand names.

The battery door: get used to it because you’ll be seeing a lot of it when the player is under heavy use.

One funny quirk I discovered is that as your battery life approaches its final hours, the battery will have enough energy to keep music running, but not enough to start up the player if you turn it off. I would get frustrated seeing my unit not starting up after a shutdown, only to try again a few hours later after the battery had some rest to find it running for half a day. The solution I devised to get every last drop out of the battery is to keep the player playing once the battery status bar goes south. Don’t even bother to put it on pause to go to the bathroom as the unit will shut off if you’re not back in time. Keep it playing solo, and then scroll back to the songs you missed when you return.

Before buying the unit I did some research and noticed some early reports of the player software being bad and in some cases causing the player to freeze up or crash. While I did not investigate these claims further to see if there was an official statement from SanDisk or if they were addressed in later models, I can say from my own experience over what has been at least six months I have had no issues of this nature.

Other Features and Fun Stuff:

Kudos to whoever decided to include an FM radio within the unit. I find it a big bonus to be able to flip over to a local radio station to catch a traffic report, or to switch over to listen to something else when you’re tired of your loaded song selection. Surprisingly enough, there are not many competitors that offer this option. FM Reception isn’t the greatest in hard-to-reach places (note how there is no external antenna) but unless you’re crawling under the sofa in the basement, it shouldn’t be a problem. If you live in an urban area, you shouldn’t experience any degradation in the signal; I found the performance to be fairly similar to cell phone reception.

The voice recorder is another great add-in, but to be quite honest I don’t get as much use out of this feature as I do with the FM radio. The sound quality is fair (I can understand) but don’t try to record sounds in the background or clips for high quality playback as these are beyond the capacity of the built-in microphone.

I really like how the unit doubles as a USB storage drive. It works in the same easy way as the music upload mentioned above. Just plug it in, and you can drag-and-drop pictures and files into this removable drive for easy transport to another machine.

In the area of post-sale accessories, the list is rather short. Besides a nifty little docking station and some rubber covers mentioned above, don't expect much selection in terms of car accessories and so forth.

Coming in for a landing at this docking station will cost you extra. It is also one of the only extras to add to your wishlist in what is a scarce aftermarket. Photo courtesy of

OEM customer support is limited to some firmware updates available for download and a few accessories scattered in with a plethora of gizmos made for the higher end models. Overall I guess this is sufficient, but definitely not too impressive, especially after I was crowing about the customer support site for an unknown brand analogue clock in my review only two months ago. Somehow I just expected more in terms of online content from a computer-related company.

Final Verdict:

Look up the m240 on the SanDisk website and this player promises high quality music playback at an affordable price. From my evaluation over the past months, I have to admit the player delivers exactly on that. The complaints I have are few and not really major enough to deduct any serious points from what is a nice little fun-to-use MP3 player.


• Lightweight
• Ergonomic design
• Simple operation
• Very affordable (wait for a sale)
• Comes with a great kit of accessories
• Doesn’t use a player-specific battery, standard AAA instead


• You’ll go through batteries like clean underwear
• Not many aftermarket accessories available
• Display is really bare-bones, which may turn off some technophiles
• Nothing too interesting in terms of product support
• Apparently a few legacy software glitches (?)

In conclusion, if you’re looking for an economical MP3 player that does its job well, I think you’ll be fairly pleased with the Sansa m240. It’s not as fancy as the other higher end units, but that was never its goal so please don’t fool yourself by trying to substitute this for something that would retail in the triple digits. If expectations are reasonably held in check, and I can honestly say it delivers great value for the end user.

Average Joe’s Product Rating: 9 / 10

Additional information on this product is available at: