Sandisk Sansa e200 series
What is it:
Sandisk's fresh alternative to the market-leading iPod (Nano) player
Why we chose it:
When you think of companies that could take on Apple's monstrous iPod dominance, a digital storage manufacturer with absolutely no experience in marketing a consumer electronics device is about as far away as you could go, but that's exactly the position Sandisk took with its Sansa line of MP3 players. The inexpensive series of digital music players debuted this year, and soon rose to the #2 spot on the charts, right below the iPod.
Anyone who visits Best Buy or Circuit City these days cannot pass the MP3 player section without noticing the recognizable packaging of Sandisk's flash-based MP3 players, most of which are priced under $200. They have been getting great reviews, which makes them sought after, and the low price immediately puts itself as an impulse purchase for many who don't already have an MP3 player. Sandisk's partnership with Rhapsody also enabled it to have an iPod/iTunes type of relationship, which is missing from many of the other MP3 players that are available today.
When we realize that iPods have become the standard in the MP3 player space over the past five years, then it is astonishing how much Sandisk has achieved with the Sansa in a few months. It is far from being a serious threat to the iPod's dominance, but it has been evolving and people are starting to adopt it. You see them more often and people aren't shy showing their non-iPods.
MP3 players are not a niche market anymore. It has become a multi-billion-dollar segment that is driving industries (such as flash memory) and innovation. Sandisk in our opinion showed the most impressive evolution in developing a new MP3 player: If you are planning to build an iPod beater, this is how you start.
What it means to you:
Don't think that the iPod is the only one out there. Even though the Zune, which sparked sparing thoughts of tough competition for Apple, was in our top-10 disappointments list, there is an alternative, and the most attractive one in the Flash-based player segment is the e200 series, hands down.
Predictions for 2007:
As much as we would wish there was more competition for the iPod, we don't really see anyone threatening Apple's market share, as long as Apple brings something new in 2007. Unfortunately, for firms such as Sandisk, the iPod is a quickly moving target. From the consumer's view the Sansa is a solid offering and it will only get better next year.
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