REVIEW: SanDisk's Sansa View vs. iPod — faster, better, cheaper?

As little as a year ago, only the hardiest contrarians mocked the iPod. Then Apple released a questionable new generation. Buyers of the Classic give it just three and a half stars on Amazon, complaining you could grow old and die waiting to Cover Flow your way through 160GB of material. The new Nano, despite sporting a bigger screen, gives up the fetching form factor that made the first two generations a joy and is still limited to 8GB capacity. While the iPod Touch is in a class by itself, the price is forbidding. So now SanDisk, the No. 2 seller of flash-memory players, is breathing even harder down Apple's neck. Follow the Continue link for five ways in which the SanDisk Sansa View trumps various iPods — and five more in which it fails.

Advantage, SanDisk:

  • Capacity per dollar: Both the View and the Touch have 8 to 16GB of memory, but the View sells for just $150 to 200 — half the price of a comparable Touch. And you can slip in a microSD card (4GB, less than $40) for even more capacity.
  • Software liberation: Unlike the iTunes-dependent iPod, the View requires no installation or booting of special software. Just use the Windows Explorer to drag and drop files.
  • Navigation speed: The View is comparable to the 2G Nano and way faster than the pokey new Cover Flow-restricted iPods.
  • Shopping mall: The View does business with a host of non-iTunes music stores including Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, eMusic, and Napster — not to mention video stores like Amazon Unboxed, TiVo to Go, and Wal-Mart.
  • Bevy of features: Including FM radio, voice recording.

Advantage, Apple:

  • RAM-pig feast: As a flash-memory manufacturer, SanDisk doesn't offer a hard-drive player, leaving the 160GB and 80GB Classics in a class by themselves.
  • Rich and GUI: The Touch shares with the iPhone arguably the richest and most fascinating user interface in the history of consumer electronics. It just may be worth twice the View's price.
  • Fit and finish: The View's plastic-front cosmetics are not bad but they're no match for the Nano's anodized-aluminum rainbow and the Touch's glass touchscreen.
  • Net savvy: The Touch (and iPhone) are the greatest compact Internet devices ever. SanDisk doesn't even try to compete in this category.
  • Bevy of features, continued: The Nano and Classic offer a few features absent from the View, including games, calendar, and contacts.

In the final analysis, the View competes strongly in economy, simplicity, and speed — some of which are virtues formerly associated with older iPod models and utterly squandered by newer ones. If you want a no-nonsense media player, SanDisk wins. But Apple's product remains the high-end choice, especially if you want to surf the Net. And me? I use two old iPod Nanos (1G and 2G) as well as the old SanDisk Sansa e280 on a daily basis. They're feeling frisky and doing their jobs as well as ever, thanks. I plan to keep my money in the bank until Apple speeds up the software in the Classic, radically increases the RAM in the Touch, or offers an iPhone via Sprint.