Mossberg: Sansa Rhapsody inferior to and more of a hassle than Apple’s iPod+iTunes

Walt Mossberg has tested the Sansa Rhapsody MP3 player and music software/onlie outfit for The Wall Street Journal. Mossberg reports, “the latest portable music player to challenge Apple’s iPod hegemony. This is the first player to be specifically designed to work with RealNetworks’ Rhapsody music-subscription service… The Rhapsody service itself also has been overhauled, with a new, cleaner interface. Best Buy stores will be launching a store-branded version of Rhapsody and sell the new player.”

“The Sansa Rhapsody isn’t really new hardware. It’s a variation of existing SanDisk players, and is formally called the e200R series. But this isn’t just a marketing gimmick. Unlike previous players that worked with Rhapsody, which relied on Microsoft software, this uses Real’s own music formats and copy-protection software and is more tightly tied to the service. The player can be switched into Microsoft mode for use with Microsoft files,” Mossberg reports.

“The player itself is small, black and good looking. It has two big advantages over the iPod Nano. First, it has a larger screen, allowing for a better display of album art and text. Second, it has a replaceable battery,” Mossberg reports. “But in most other respects, the Sansa Rhapsody is inferior to the iPod Nano. It is bulkier — more than twice as thick and almost twice as heavy as the Nano. It doesn’t have a feature for playing audiobooks or podcasts, and its battery life is lower than the Nano’s. I also found transferring music to the player from Rhapsody to be slower than on the iPod, despite Real’s claims to the contrary. And when I added my own tracks to the Sansa, it failed in many cases to display the album art.”

Mossberg reports, “Also, after the initial 60 days, you must plug the player into your computer and synchronize with the Rhapsody service at least once a month to verify that your subscription is paid up. Otherwise, all the songs on the device become unplayable. (Rhapsody also sells nonexpiring tracks a la carte, like Apple, but that’s not its main business.)”

“The player does a good job of displaying photos and videos, but getting them onto the device was more of a hassle than on the iPod. You need separate software, and that software was confusing to use,” Mossberg reports. “For people who don’t want to choose their own music, or who value discovering new artists over hearing familiar ones, the Sansa Rhapsody may be just the ticket. For those who place a higher value on personal choice, the iPod is better.”

Full article here.
Real+SanDisk+Best Buy with more than a dollop of Microsoft thrown in does not equal a smoothly operating vertical solution. Regardless of what they call it, it’s still a mishmash of companies that couldn’t compete on their own against Apple and, even while pooling their limited resources, cannot replicate iPod+iTunes well.

Mossberg is evil (but, a good kind of evil) with the inside dig, “For those who place a higher value on personal choice, the iPod is better.” Especially since Real Rhapsody tried and failed so spectacularly with their bogus “Freedom of Music Choice” publicity stunt back in August 2004.

Related articles:
Best Buy teams with RealNetworks’ Rhapsody and SanDisk to launch ‘iTunes Store killer’ – October 05, 2006
Study shows Apple iTunes Music Store pay-per-download model preferred over subscription service – April 11, 2005
Petition to RealNetworks to cancel ‘Freedom of Music Choice’ publicity stunt garners large response – August 18, 2004
RealNetworks launches ‘Freedom of Choice’ campaign with song downloads for 49 cents – August 17, 2004


  1. “switched into Microsoft mode”

    There’s a frightening thought. It probably also involves Muzak, buggy code, spyware, nose and ear hair grooming tips, and a four hour long slide show of the inner workings of a desalination plant.

  2. I think the M$ mode is the most interesting part of this because it’s the beginning of the defections. By remaining “open” and supporting the M$ solution (fascist overtones), yet advancing their own entirely new approach, they are weaning off the M$ teat. Expect others to do the same.

    M$ is putting itself in a position with Zune where it had better succeed, or they’re screwing themselves potentially. While I don’t expect all the M$-based services to abandon M$ completely if they can make a buck, this does seem like the beginning of a parting of ways.

  3. I hate to let the cat out of the bag, but: Everybody, starting with MS, sits down and grinds their respective teeth over how they’re going to beat Apple. That’s basically the design philosophy of everyone trying to compete with Apple’s iPod line. One the other hand, Apple sits down and invents, designs, implements, and subsequently sells a well made, decently priced, totally functional personal music and video player. And Apple looks at their product and says, “Yeah, that’s a great product. We think consumers will like that.”

    Does anybody see the difference?

  4. Regarding the image: how can companies get away with such blatant theft? It’s obviously designed to make people think about the ads running for iPod, “that popular music device…oh, this must be the same thing!”

    And how can they get away with saying it’s “The #1 rated digital music service?” That’s just a bold faced lie.

    Why would any intelligent person want to deal with a company that wants to trick and lie to you?

  5. Don’t listen to Mossberg, guys! You’re doing just great! Honest! In fact, this verticle thingy is such a great idea, that others should follow your lead! Where’s Napster+Creative+Circuit City? C’mon guys! Create plenty of consumer confusion and help keep Apple #1!

  6. “For people who don’t want to choose their own music, or who value discovering new artists over hearing familiar ones, the Sansa Rhapsody may be just the ticket. For those who place a higher value on personal choice, the iPod is better.”

    For those who are wondering (who have not read the full article), this refers to the fact that the Sansa 2GB comes HALF-FILLED with crappy pre-loaded music of Rhapsody’s choice- most of which Mossberg hated. He went about deleting it all, and was shocked when, the next time he hooked it up, Rhapsody immediately starting loading it AGAIN with more crappy music- and apparently there’s no way to turn off this “feature”- yet.


    MDN word: freedom- what you lose the moment you step into the WinUniverse

  7. Mossy’s problem is that he just doesn’t get music subscriptions.

    I can’t understand why. The Labels just love them. Rent all of your music for the rest of your life.

    What’s not to love Mossy?

  8. Vertical integration is the only way anyone is going to challenge the iPod. I do not agree with the idea that different companies are unable to work together to achieve a nice user experience. The biggest hurdle was the Plays for Sure concept of trying to be everyone’s bitch. The problem here is that the companies involved have never shown shown an ability to do great integration. It is pretty obvious that they missed it in this incarnation, but this failure does not prove that it cannot be done. This is just their first try.

    Look, I’m not saying they will topple the iPod, but rather that some of the Plays for Shit orphans are going to dominate the remainder of the market at some point. The one that best replicates the iPod system ease of use will be the one that wins. They have a lot to learn, but getting out of the MS shackles was the necessary first step.

  9. You’ve got to wonder if their splash page wasn’t designed to attract Apple’s legal department. Maybe they think the publicity gained from a C&D order will buy them some traffic. Frankly, I can’t imagine Apple allowing that artwork, which is such a blatent copy of iTMS promotional material, to continue appearing on the Best Buy site. I also think it’s time to pull Apple products out of BB. They’ve never been a good sales channel for Apple and now they are a direct competitor. You know that their sales people are going to be instructed to push people in the Sansa direction; iPods will be relegated back to the dark corner where they keep their one sample of a Mac.

  10. I’m warming up to subscriptions, but I primarily listen to [free] streaming music until I hear a song that I really want, then I buy it. My library is really small, consisting of music I really want and enjoy.

    As for Rhapsody, they claim it’s “The #1 Rated Digital Music Service”… suckers.

  11. Here we go again…

    “Choice” is not Apple’s strongest selling point with iPod+iTMS, as they are exclusive to each other. Not being allowed to use your purchased music on another device or software, and not being allowed to purchase music somewhere else for use in your software OR device is not what I’d call choice.

    PlaysForSure may be inferior in design/process simplicity to Apple’s model, but you can’t deny it permits competition between stores and manufacturers.

    That said, I’ve seen nothing indicating whether the new Rhapsody is PlaysForSure compliant, or will only work on this one player they keep talking about. Does anyone know?

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