Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sandisk doesn't want your money for a music player unless you run Windows

I bought a Sansa e280 last weekend to replace my aging and bulky Neuros (the last straw was when I lost the charger for the Neuros). It's nice to have such a small, light music player, and having 8GB of space is a big bonus. But when I went to the Sandisk web site to get a new firmware, I discovered that they only provide a .exe of a magic firmware download program. This is despite the fact that, as you can find by searching on the Web, the actual firmware upgrade procedure is just "copy the firmware file onto the device".

So, I wrote to support, mentioning that I don't have a running Windows installation and asking if they could provide an alternate means of updating the firmware. Here's the response:

Please be informed that your Sansa e280 is supported on Windows XP. If the operating system of your computer is not Windows XP, if you have just bought your Sansa e280, we do recommend that you contact the store where you purchased it and inquire about replacements that can be supported on your operating system or if that store honor refunds, please do ask for it. Please do provide the proof of purchase and packaging for verification purposes.

Now, I can work around this problem -- but after reading that brush-off I think I might just take their advice; as it happens, I saved the packaging just on the offchance something like this came up. Can anyone recommend a decent, small, flash-based media player that works well with Linux? Must-have features are:

  • FM radio (this eliminates, e.g., the Archos).
  • Some support for non-encumbered file formats.
  • Support for installing firmware upgrades from Linux.
  • Support for syncing music from Linux.
  • Either .ogg support or a lively (even if unfinished) Rockbox port. (Rockbox is actually preferred, since I'll probably just switch over to it if possible; this was one of the deciding factors in my purchasing an e280)

I still haven't made up my mind: I might hang onto the e280 out of inertia and wait for the Rockbox guys to figure it out (it looks like they're making pretty good progress). But if there's a better vendor out there that actually wants my money, I'd love to hear about them.


At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Andrew Ash said...

I've found that the iRiver iFP-799 works well in all those aspects. Native OGG, I think firmware is updateable w/o Windows, it has an FM tuner, and works great on Linux.

The only thing is it has only 1GB of memory and is a few years old. Maybe check iRiver's 9xx series or others for what you're ooking for.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Scott Robinson said...

iAudio 6, M5, etc. iAudio is a brand of the Korean company Cowon. They actively market their Linux support.

iRiver Clix. Excellent interface. Though, I may be mis-remembering the radio support.

I did a purchase a bit ago of a Linux supporting, OGG supporting HD player. Anything But iPod was an excellent resource in my purchase decision.

At 2:30 AM, Anonymous Dave said...

Why not simply tootle off to the rockbox website and take a look at what devices they support:

and then check which of those do radio?


At 7:10 AM, Blogger zedascouves said...

I use an iRiver H320, and it runs fine in linux with iFish/Rythmbox/you name it. They don't make this model anymore, but I'm sure you can find on ebay.

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Ben Hutchings said...

Tips for extracting firmware from Windows programs:
* Decompress the executable with upx if possible
* Try extracting files from it using unzip or unlha
* Run it in Wine and look at the temporary files it creates
* Look for a magic number and size field in the header of the current firmware, find them in the executable, then use dd to extract the firmware

As a last resort I've used a Windows live-CD called BartPE to upgrade firmware.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger dburrows said...

David: I had the distinct impression that all the fully supported RockBox devices are old and off the market (the large storage capacity of the e280 is nice since I have a lot of music).

ben: As I said, I have a pretty good idea how to get the firmware myself (in fact, I worked around the problem before I got the Sandisk response), but I find it ridiculous in this day and age that a device manufacturer tells Linux (and Mac!) users to take their money elsewhere.

Everyone: Thanks for the suggestions. I'll take a look at the iRiver and iAudio lines.

The more I read about other players, though, the more it looks like I'll have to give up features if I return the Sansa: I like having a Flash player (since I want to use it, e.g., in the gym), and the 8GB capacity is really nice. Once you restrict the search to players matching those two criteria, you pretty much get Creative, Sandisk, and Apple -- no enthusiastic Linux supporters there.

OTOH, I was expecting to only have 4GB available when I set out to buy a Flash player...and re-encoding my FLAC files to a lower quality would probably fit them on a 4GB player. So, for that matter, would syncing them a bit more selectively -- I probably don't need to carry the entire BBC radio edition of "The Hobbit" around with me. :-)

And on the third hand, based on the direction things are going, it looks like in a year or two, everyone will offer 16GB flash players with 4" touch-screens and movie-playing support, so I might be better off saving my money and getting something cheaper today.

I'll have to think about it for a couple days.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Matthew Wilcox said...

I bought a Samsung Yepp T9. I've done firmware upgrades on it twice now, and it's just a matter of taking two files from the .zip and uploading them using libmtp. It plays oggs as long as you name them .mp3. Unfortunately, it doesn't support USB storage and requires the use of things like libmtp instead. I haven't figured out how to set up playlists or tag songs properly with artist/album/genre yet, but libmtp development is progressing quickly.

The T9 was only recently released, so hopefully it'll be around for a while yet. I got the 4GB model, but a 2GB model is also available.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Jason said...

I also recommend the iAudio series of devices. Otherwise, check out a little-known company called Meizu. They make a great video iPod rip off with support for FLAC, Vorbis and DIVX videos.

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, I got the same "brush-off" response almost word for word when I asked about manual updates to the firmware of my Sansa c250.

At 6:37 AM, Blogger dburrows said...

This post has become a spam-magnet; closing comments.


<< Home