Back in February 2005, I wrote about CompactFlash-based MP3 players. A few months later my mother spent a week in hospital and was desperate to listen to some music that would keep her sane, so dad and I ended up buying a SanDisk 512 Mb “Digital Audio Player” for her to use.

Since then I’ve mostly been the one using it. I guess it’s not a bad little unit for the price (sub-$200, although they are probably half that now!), but I do have a couple of complaints:

The earbud headphones that came with it are almost unusable – they won’t fit my ears properly and are a bit heavy, so tend to want to fall out. They also stick out a bit which means they can’t be comfortably used in bed while you’re resting the side of your head on a pillow. In the end I ended up using some old earbuds that came with a Sony Walkman I bought way back in 1991. I think they sound better too.

Another problem is with the four-way joystick-style navigator. Sometimes I listen to podcasts and often want to skip parts of them (or rewind 30 seconds), but the way the fast-forward/rewind works is a bit hit-and-miss. The player has a tendency to skip to the next track if you’re not careful. The joystick is much smaller than my thumb, recessed and made of plastic (or is it metal?), not rubber, and none of these things help much either.

Lately I have ended up having to use software on my PC to split long podcasts into multiple mp3 files (approximately 2 minutes per mp3) so if I happen to skip to the next track accidentally, I can quickly get back to where I was. Also, the bigger the MP3 file, the more SanDisk’s user interface will slow down. Seeking backwards when you’re towards the end of an hour-long mp3 file on the player really is tedious.

On the upside, the player has a decent sound, although not as clean as an Apple iPod Shuffle I borrowed. However, the SanDisk has a rudimentary graphic equaliser and FM radio, and you can replace the battery without tools. The Shuffle can’t do any of these things.

From what I can tell, if the battery goes flat on an iPod Shuffle, too bad – you just have to wait for it to charge. With the SanDisk you can just swap the battery over in 30 seconds. From what I can tell, a fully charged NiMH AAA battery in the SanDisk will last about 8 hours for MP3 playback, or a bit longer if just listening to the radio.

Unlike the iPod, the SanDisk does not require iTunes (or an iTunes clone) to manage your music. I’m not fond of iTunes – for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to work the way I think it should. But perhaps iTunes thinks that I don’t work the way it thinks I should.


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