Despite all these positives there is a downside to the e200’s video, and that is - it doesn’t support a progress bar. Instead, videos are broken up into 10-15 minute chunks which can be fast forwarded through, but it isn’t really a good substitute and stops the device earning top marks. On the plus side it will automatically connect all the chunks together when playing, which in essence makes them a little like the bookmarks you get on DVDs.
Ok, that’s more than enough time on video so let’s move onto audio. This is a distinctly iPoddian affair (which should be taken as a compliment) with the blue lit ring mimicking the scrolling of the iPod ClickWheel with dedicated buttons above, below, left and right copying the play/pause, skip/fast-forward/rewind and menu functions.
A separate power button handily doubles up as a root menu shortcut so that no matter where you are in the menu structure you can be return to the main screen, while fast forward and rewind buttons can also be used like the back/forward icons in a web browser. Overall, the controls still aren’t quite as intuitive as an iPod’s, but they are easily the second best I’ve seen.
As for the menu structure itself, this is another iPod ‘influenced’ area and features an almost identical layout where tracks can be searched by Artist, Album, Song, Genre, Rating or Playlist. The transitional screen ‘wipe’ from one sub-menu to another is also classic iPod territory (or Star Wars if that’s more your bag). Audio quality is superb, with treble and bass both well represented (though obviously dependant on bit-rate) and the supplied headphones are surprisingly good. I soon swapped to my beloved Shure e3c’s but they make a far better job out of the box than the rubbish that Apple provides (and the public mysteriously continues to use). Meanwhile, battery life for music is rated at 20 hours, six more than the nano.
The oneupsmanship doesn’t stop there either, since all the e200s support a microSD expansion slot to further boost memory capacity. This works extremely well, since any additional data is seamlessly integrated into the player’s media archive. An inbuilt mic also provides voice recording, though the integrated FM radio has been disabled because of the additional tax the EU puts on any device that carries one. SanDisk told me that its market research suggested consumers would be reluctant to pay this extra cost so the feature was switched off. Given that it does still reside in the player, I’d keep my eye out for fans’ unofficial firmware which will no doubt sort this out…
As for Photo support, this works in a similar manner to the video with Jpeg, Tiff, Gif, Png and Bmp formats supported through the conversion software which automatically converts the images to fit the player’s screen (again without altering aspect ratio). Photos can be viewed in thumbnail as well as full screen, but given that all shots are resized it is a little disappointing that no larger pictures can be viewed and scrolled or zoomed around.