Let’s face it. The iPod is a difficult act to outperform. The gadget, in its many avatars, manages to bring together design, usability and quality in a combination that is addictive and cool. Say what you will about Apple’s branding gimmicks and price premium — once you’ve iPodded, there is really no turning back.
Yet, there are things MP3 players can do to become viable alternatives to the iPod. Top most on that list will be a simpler way to transfer music without downloading applications such as iTunes (the latest version of iTunes is a mammoth 60.5MB download, and not exactly the most intuitive application in the world).
Fuddy duddy: Sony’s MP3 players are just not cool enough.
Both the players we are reviewing this week, however, score high in the simplicity and ease-of-use department. Transferring and playing music on both players were a breeze. But do they simplify things enough to displace the iPod from your shopping list?
The Sansa View 16GB player we received for review handles audios, videos and photographs, and comes in a slim, spare form that is clean, if not particularly captivating. The controls are minimal, and comprise a rubberized, clickable scroll wheel, a small button that accesses the main menu and a slider switch on the side that switches it on/off, and also into Hold mode — when the buttons are locked.
Also, built into the right edge of the player, is a feature that will please anyone who likes to carry his/her music around: a microSD card slot that can take cards of up to 8GB capacity. That, along with a decent FM radio, are two reasons why you might want to choose the View over a similarly spec-ed iPod Nano.
Transferring any kind of media into the View is easy. Plug it into a USB port using the cable provided, and the gadget will shortly be identified and listed as a USB disk drive — like any old pen drive. Drag and drop the movies, pictures and music you need and you are good to go. If you want to go about it in a more organized fashion, fire up your Windows Media Player and the player should be available to sync with.
No downloading, no installing and no proprietary software headaches.
Okay, wait. It wasn’t as simple as that. The first few times we tried to connect the player to a PC, many mysterious things happened — alerts popped up, bells rang, and icons danced — but the player simply refused to be identified. We were soon driven to scour the Internet for help when it transpired that many View owners faced this problem. Thankfully, the remedy was simple. A hard reset — switch into Hold mode and hold down the Main menu button while connecting to the PC — and things returned to normalcy.
One pleasing feature of the View was the Podcast option in the music menu.
Many non-iPod players, including the other piece we are reviewing this week, overlook this simple option. While most music buffs won’t miss this, podcast junkies hate having to browse around manually. One of the iPod’s strengths is its excellent podcast management. The View makes a commendable effort.
The View is let down by a screen that is large enough at 2.4 inches (marginally larger than the iPod Nano) across, but is vapid. The photos are soft and mellow, and while the videos are better, the screen is overlaid with a layer of plastic that stretches over the entire fascia that is reflective and a sucker for fingerprints.
As a plain vanilla music player, however, the View performs well. Songs are easy to navigate, and while the onscreen interface is plain boring, it is simple enough to get even newbies zipping through tracks in no time.
The View also has a decent quality voice recorder — which makes it great for journalists on the move — and thoughtful little touches, such as resuming a video from where you dropped off last time. All of this makes it a joy to use. Priced at Rs12,790, the View is a viable option for anyone looking for a simpler, higher capacity and more feature-packed alternative to the iPod Nano.
The great tragedy about our other little piece, the 4GB Sony Walkman Video MP3 player, is its name. Why in the world would anyone name a product NWZ-S616F? Calling it the “Video MP3 player” only makes it sound like a cheap Chinese rip-off. For some inexplicable reason, Sony continues to let its MP3 languish in obscurity while other products, such as the Playstation and TVs, get solid marketing and branding support.
Expandable: The Sansa View comes with a handy micro SD card slot.
The S616F — I don’t know what else to call it — takes the Sansa drag-and-drop approach and makes it even simpler. And with a simple onscreen interface, the 4GB S616F is perfect for people looking for a dead-simple music listening experience. After unpacking the product, at no point did we have to refer to a manual to figure out how it works.
Yet, it is very apparent that the S616F is Sony’s low-end player. The product is made of dull plastic and has shoddy buttons. However, it does have decent sound and a good quality FM radio.
The player has a simple, five-way navigation pad with two little keys — one for the options menu and another to go back to the previous menu — and Hold and volume toggles on the sides.
The S616F is free of Sony screw-ups such as Atrac and Sonicstage software that made previous models unpopular. This simpler, plain vanilla new product is a step in the right direction, albeit a dull and poorly-branded one.
At Rs7,990, the S616F is a simple, uncomplicated but a pricey buy that you will need to christen with a convenient nickname of some sort.
# Sandisk Sansa View
Storage capacity: 16GB
Formats played: MP3, WMA, WAV, MPEG4, WMV, H.264, JPEG
Expandable memory: micro SDHC/SD slot, up to 8GB
FM Radio: Yes
Screen size: 2.4 inch TFT
Weight: approx. 80g
Battery life: 32 hours audio/5 hours video
# Sony NWZ S616F
Storage capacity: 4GB
Formats played: MP3, WMA, AAC, MPEG4, H.264
Expandable memory: No
FM Radio: Yes
Screen size: 1.8 inch TFT
Weight: approx. 50g
Battery life: 33 hours audio/9.5 hours video