Testers (Consultant) Review of the 1G Express (Four different devices)

I am a proffessional tester.  I test both hardware devices and software applications.  I am experienced in a variety of manual and automated testing methods.  My current client makes devices that run a variety of applications that allow customers to download music files to mp3 devices or burn them to CD’s.

I have extensively tested a variety of Sansa devices as well as those by other manufactures.

Some disclamers:

  1. Testing mp3 device integrity and functionability is NOT one of my duties.  I only test them to make sure that they are PFS compatible and that they work with our equipment for downloading music.

  2. I personally own a 1st generation 10 Gig iPod (You remember the one with the four buttons accross the top?)

  3. I bought my each of my kids (2) a Zen Micro for Christmas two years ago and replaced both of those with iPod Nano’s about 2 months later when the Zen’s started having problems I could no longer resolve.

  4. As geek with a technical background I have always built my own computers for myself and family members and I custom built workstations and servers for clients.  I have been a beta tester for a variety of pre-release applications from many different industries so I know how to do upgrades and workarounds to get a job done.  I can fix things others can’t.

My iPod has served me well these many years and I am quite happy with it.  While testing all the new devices for my current client I became familiar with the smaller devices that are easier to carry around.  Bonus with the built in radio tuner.  I became intrigued with the Express since it seemed to be bullet proof and I liked the idea of sliding in a MicroSD card to expand memory.  I also liked the Zen Micro’s which were my first choice because of it’s features, but price was an issue for those features which came at the expense of the amount of memory on the device being sacrificed for their cheapest unit.  The two main reasons I need an mp3 device would be Radio, then Music with lots of storage, in that order.  The Sansa Express was the logical choice for those features at that price point.

Device #1

Been using it at work for 3 1/2 months without issue.

Device #2

I bought one for myself at Best Buy.  Also bought a 2G MicroSD (PNY).  It worked for two days then died the first time I tried downloading music.  Flatline.  No power.  Before downloading the MicroSD was recognized by the Express, in Explorer and in Media Player 11.

Device #3

I RMA’d Device #2 and exchanged for this one.  This one broke the day of the Exchange after downloading songs to the device, then disconnecting it from the computer, it stayed in “Connected” mode.  None of the controls worked and it could not be shut off or powered down.  Nothing left to do but go to bed and let the battery run down so it manually shuts off after it runs out of power.  This happened on the way to work today.  Got to work and the device was working fine until the automatic update updated the firmware.  The MicroSD card was no longer recognized by anything and the Express operated painfully slow with the card inserted and downloaded music kept pausing.  Pull out the card and it worked fine.  Downloaded more music to the Express and disconnected the device, the Express stayed in Connected mode again which was it’s final state when I RMA’d that one back to Best Buy on the way home from work.

Device #4

As I type this, I can say that so far the new device is working as advertised.  MicroSD can be seen by Express, Explorer, and Media Player 11.  Downloading music is fast and easy in Media Player Sync.  The firmware has not been updated and I dare say I won’t allow it on this one.  That will be sure death for the MicroSD feature.

If this device continues to operate like the one I test at work I will be very satisfied.  If it breaks, I will pay the extra money for the Zen Micro.  Calls have been coming into customer service about Sansa e250’s and e260’s crapping out, so I don’t want one of them.  The e250’s et al I have tested here at my current gig (we have three) have worked flawlessly and are quite impressive in form and function.

Bottom Line Rating:

In the testing profession we have a term for these kind of results.  We call them “Showstoppers”.  As a QA tester I would have never allowed this product to launch in it’s current state and it makes me wonder what type of QA testing they are doing at Sansa to allow a 50% reject rate on one product line.  Surfing the net for message boards/forums on these topics I find that problems I have mentioned above are rampent.

The only reason I exchanged for a third device was because I am curious and want to test it some more and try to break it again now that I have one that works.  Maybe Best Buy just got in a bad “lot” and the new ones on the hook are now “good” units.  We shall see.  I will report back here on my torture testing, good or bad.  The longer it takes me to update my findings can be interpreted as things are going smoothly.

For now, I could not recomend the Sansa Express to anyone as it is not ready for prime time.  Too bad.  It has all the potential to be a Nano/Shuffle killer.

Watch this space for more results.

To the members of this Forum:

Thanks to others who posted their problems with this product.  It helped me validate the problems on my deveces.

To Sansa:

Thanks to Sansa for coming up with a great idea.  Make it better! Revamp your testing process with test cases that highlight the problems in this and other forums and use a variety of computers to sync with including those with USB 1.0.  Get the right firmware out there ASAP for your current customers that will address the MicroSD issue.  Test to the lowest common denominator.  Customers do not read manuals.  Deal.  (Speaking of Manuals, you say absolutely nothing about addressing the way the MicroSD operates in Explorer and Media Player and since you touting the use of MicroSD as your first two bullet points as a feature, you would think you would give it a mention.  For geeks like me it’s NBD, but it is for Soccer Mom and her kids.  This is a huge oversite.  I would also highlight the effortless and seemless integration with Media Player 11 Sync as a feature.)  Email the customers who have registered so we know when the new firmware is available, but give us the option to roll back if doesn’t work.  (Reset is not the same thing.)  Recall the bad devices if you can identify them by lot.  Give the customers who exchange a free 128MB MicroSD for their trouble.

FYI - ABOUT THE BATTERY: If you take out the two screws with a jewelers phillups then pop off the top with a jewelers screwdriver you can see the two wire leads that end at a black rectangular module (plug?) that attaches to the battery.  The plug and battery are wrapped in a thin shet of cellophane that would have to be removed to possibly detatch the battery which probably just unplugs.  I’m sure you could order a new one at Radio Schack or have Batteries Plus make or order you one.  Note that this would probably void your warrantee.

That’s my 2 cents and a partridge in a pair tree…

Good luck to all with your purchaces.

It does seem as though the company is a hardware (flash) manufacturer first, and a consumer electronics producer second.  Very few problems reported with the standalone flash products (I have had many over the years).  I have also owned three models of their mp3 players and it seems at least to me, that the quality of these over time is going in the wrong direction.

I reported a couple weeks ago that the player would not recognized greater than 1000 songs.  An amazing oversight given that the 1g player states on the package that it can hold 500 wma files.  Put in a 2g card, you should get 1500 files.  Amazingly though, their internal testing apparently never tried to do this.  Tech support says that a firmware upgrade should fix it, but it should never have been unable to do this in the first place.  My three year old e100 player had no problem in this regard.

Even something as simple as trying to determine the correct revision of firmware for this player cannot be located on the website.  Follow the links and you can get the info for the “e200” and “c200” series, but “m200” series and express are strangely absent on the page.

http://www.sandisk.com/Retail/Default.aspx?CatID=1376

Yep, limits testing will definately be a requirement.  I have done this with several of the m230’s (we have 4) and so far no problems.  We also have one c150 which locked up but a recovery tool by sansa that a co-worker used got it up and running again.  I only have 130 songs on my Express now so I will add increments of 100 songs until I see a problem this weekend.  I guess I should try it with the e250’s, e260’s and the e270’s since one guy who has RMA’d two of those devices has bought and downloaded any where from 60 to over 100 songs at a time before it craps out.  That is not my job to limit test mp3 devices for device makers.  We expect THEM to do that.  I will have to make it a priorety now so we can recomend to our stores which devices are reliable and which should not be sold.

If Sansa never did limits testing on their devices, the head of QA should be dismissed and replaced with someone qualified.  It is at the top of the list for our Burn CD requirements.  We use up every available second.

I should clairify that in my first post I mentioned that most people don’t read owners manuals…unless there is a problem with the product.  With all the possible work arounds that need to be done to troubleshoot the many and varried problems, a section on trouble shooting is needed, though if the product was QA’d correctly in the first place, they wouldn’t need it.

Their testing process seems to be more cowboy rather then repeatable documentation that tests every possible scenario of the devices capabilities.  The fact that they are make Flash memory that partially works in their own devices is inexcusable.  It’s not easy getting approved by Best Buy and this is one way to get your stuff yanked off their shelf in a hurry. 

There is a lot I don’t know about SanDisk behind the scenes, so my judgements and speculations should be taken with a grain of salt.

The company that I was employed by for many years (major CPU manufacturer) had a group whole and separate from Q&R called Validation.  And it’s name describes well what it was responsible for.  Rather than focus on life test, electrical limits test etc., it was responsible for making sure that the product worked as described across platforms at nominal datasheet specs. 

It seems to me that this is where Sandisk is missing the boat. 

They might be able to easily rectify this by increasing their pool of beta testers.  This could be done cheaply.  For example, offer folks (maybe people from a site such as this) an electronic contract and a player to wring the bugs out before putting it on the market.  I don’t suggest this to get a free mp3 player, but to get an mp3 player that I can trust to do what it is advertised to do.

In any event, I agree with you that whoever is in charge of QA or whatever they call it internally should be shown the door.

my mp3 will start(just to the sandisk part) then shuts off?? i am unsure why it does this, can you help? thanks alot