Giving in to MP3–on my terms

Faithful readers may know that I’m somewhat of a troglodyte when it comes to portable electronics–particularly when I used to fly a lot, I really liked (and still like) to travel light, I have no desire for 24×365 availability, I find it difficult to listen to music and actually read or think at the same time…

The first crack appeared last summer at ALA when I tried Twitter via a cheap Virgin Mobile prepay cell phone with a tiny QWERTY keyboard. Twitter didn’t do it for me (by the way, for those of you continuing to sign up to follow me: I’m not there–but Twitter doesn’t actually allow you to leave)–but the cheaper cell phone made sense if I needed to call home. Since that was the conference where I wound up spending a night in DFW’s American terminal, it was just as well. (And I’ll have the same phone with me in Philadelphia, usually turned off…)

Actually, though, the first crack appeared maybe three (or four) years ago. I picked up a $15 portable CD player to try on a couple of speaking trips, thinking it might be nice to have music in the airport waiting lounges or if I needed cheering up in the hotel. (Actually, it was a $25 player, since I immediately replaced the crappy earbuds with adequate $10 Sony half-in-ear earclip units.) Mixed results: Yes, I liked having music once in a while–but the CD player, little coin purse for the headphones, and wallet full of CDs was a little bulky–particularly since I’d use it for maybe 2-4 hours on any given trip.

Meanwhile, I’d digitized my CD collection–twice. First at 196Kbps, then at 320K, since I found even 196K MP3 tiring after 15-20 minutes. I’ve burned loads of compilation CDs over the past five or six years…

I’d been following reviews of portable MP3 players for a while. I knew the issues with hard disks. I knew that most players come with poor earbuds but already had a decent set of replacements. And I knew which brands had decent reputations for value and good-quality electronics.

So when Office Depot had a sale the week before Christmas on a unit from a brand I recognized, that seemed to meet my basic criteria, from a series that had gotten decent reviews and at a price that was too low to quibble over, I pounced.

No, it’s not an iPod. Why would you even ask? I didn’t plan to spend $100 or more, I don’t plan to watch videos, I don’t use iTunes…

It’s a SanDisk Sansa Express 2GB player–basically a slightly oversized, fairly thick USB Flash Drive. 3.1 by 0.9 by 0.7 (at thickest) to 0.4 inches, maybe two ounces, four-line display (one orange line for battery and current song #, three blue lines for selections), simple control pad. 15-hour lithium rechargeable battery (not apparently replaceable), charges via the same USB 2.0 port you use to transfer music. (Turns out the case is just a little too wide at that end for the front USB ports on my 5.5-year-old Gateway–but SanDisk includes a short USB extender, which works just great. When/if I get a new Gateway, this won’t be an issue.)

Selling points? Well, SanDisk should know something about flash memory, being one of the biggest producers. I knew 2GB was enough for what I wanted, even at 320K–I have about 320 of my favorite songs (pretty much everything I’d want to hear on the road), with about 100Meg to spare. (Yahoo! Jukebox immediately recognized the Sansa–no software install–and handles it flawlessly: Just drag-and-drop, or synchronize if my Jukebox library was small enough.) I wanted flash disk for durability. A small and slightly chunky design suited me better than the thin-and-flat but taller-and-wider designs. And at $49, who could argue with the price?

Of course, it wasn’t really $49. It was really $64–because I don’t travel with a notebook computer, so just in case I use it a lot, it makes sense to add a tiny little AC-to-USB plug ($15 at Fry’s)–which, oddly, is marketed as an iPod accessory, even though (most?) iPods require an adapter cable to use it.

I’ve tried it out with the superb titanium-element over-the-ear headphones I have at home: The sound quality is just fine, comparable to a regular CD player. It has shuffle play, which is how I’ll usually use it–I trimmed my first load of songs a little, so that I’m basically going to enjoy listening carefully to whatever comes up. (That’s less than 10% of what’s in the music library. So it goes.)

I was quite amused to see an announcement of an $80 microphone plugin so you could use an iPod for voice recording. It’s a good idea–but this $49 Sansa already includes voice recording. Haven’t tried it, don’t know whether I’ll ever use it, but (as with most non-Apple MP3 players) it’s there, and integrated into the software. And, as with most others, there’s also an FM tuner, which I might or might not ever use.

I’m not a lanyard person, and I don’t expect to be using this on the exhibit floor or during walks or while reading or dining…but I sure can see using it while waiting for or riding on a plane. Turns out it fits nicely in the little coin purse that holds the Sony headphones, and that just drops in any pocket with not much bulge.

Nothing momentous here. Love your iPod? More power to you; so do my brother and sister-in-law and millions of other people. This just suited my own needs better. (Oh, and if I ever do decide that 2GB isn’t enough…well, there’s a microSD slot on the Sansa Express also, so I could upgrade to 4GB for, what, $20 more–or have several loaded 2GB microSD cards.)

Hmm. I’ve got 100MB left. I don’t do well with podcasts at home but there’s at least two Uncontrolled Vocabulary episodes I’d really like to hear. Maybe I’ll load them and see whether Midwinter allows enough downtime…

5 Responses to “Giving in to MP3–on my terms”

  1. Hedgielib says:

    I’ve had a Sansa 4GB player for a couple of years and it’s perfect for when I need it. I use it mostly when I’m traveling by air–when I’m at home I have my stereo and computer. It’s been very reliable though and I’m glad to see you found a reasonable option for what you needed.

    Happy mp3s 🙂

  2. libwitch says:

    I have had a Sandisk for 3 years now, and its perfect – so lightweight, so easy to use. I have never had any compatibility problems with any type of music format I want to play with it (no need to covert from one music format to another) , and and I can plug into any speakers or headphones I happen to around at the time. Does just what I need it to, at a dirt cheap price.

    And this things has been through everything- dropped, ran over, dropped into water – and still keeps running. Unlike many of my friends with other, more expensive devices that keep having to replace them if they seem to sneeze on them….*grin*

  3. Jennifer says:

    Incidentally, you can leave Twitter, if you want to. If you go into your account settings, there is a link (albeit an unobtrusive one) at the bottom of the page that says ‘Delete my account’.

  4. walt says:

    Jennifer–Ah, but that’s just it. It’s true Hotel California software: You can check out any time you want, but you can never really leave.

    I tried “Delete my account.” More than once. It winds up either with an error message or simply not doing anything. So I’ve given up and forgotten my password and username.

    By the way, the Sansa is working out great. I didn’t use it much at Midwinter, but when I did, I could listen into the music (not just listen to it). And at home, with the higher-end headphones: Bliss, hearing more of the music than I normally would.

    About the only negative: As far as I can tell, Shuffle Mode doesn’t do a random mix, it does one of two or three mixes, period. Not a huge deal.

  5. Steve Lawson says:

    Walt, while I won’t defend Twitter’s buggy “delete my account” link, I can testify that repeated clickings got it to work few me last fall when I deleted my first account

    Of course, I had a change of heart a few months later and created a new account.