For Christmas, I recevied a SanDisk Sansa e270 (I specifically got the e270r which has a little different firmware and it only available at Best Buy as it is configured to work with the Best Buy/Rhaposdy music service. Which, by the way, I received a 2 month trial to). I hadn't done any research, but I knew I didn't want a ipod (I had several reasons for this…the biggest was that Apple is too big andhas too much of an attitude). I didn't know it, but the Sansa is the #2 mp3 player on the market (right behind the ipod). It's biggest plus is a 20 hour capacity user replaceable battery!
It has taken me a while to figure some things out (like how I can subscrbe to podcasts, have them downloaded, and transferred to the player automatically). At this point, I have an ok solution and I thought I would write about it so it was available to everyone else. First though, I'll talk about some thing that didn't work.
Best Buy Music Store: As I mentioned above, the e270r came with a 2 month trial to the Best Buy Music Store (you pay $15/month and can download all the music you want to your player). This was my first stop. I signed up and started downloading. It was nice…I could search for music I didn't have CDs for, download it, and listen. I could also import my mp3s and transfer them to my player. I could make play lists, etc…. The only drawbacks were: the music you download is DRM tied to the player and service…once you quit paying the music stops working, there is no way to build non-music store playlists automatically (like for a podcast), and there is no way to subscribe to podcasts.
ITunes: I thought this would only sync if I had an ipod, but I thought I would give it a shot. I could downlad podcasts easily enough, but it wouldn't sync to my player. I found an add-on called idleTunes that claims it would Sync my ITunes playlists to other players. ITunes downloaded the podcasts good enough; however, I had no way to get the music onto my player. idleTunes helped, but it wouldn't create playlists in the playlists menu of my player (this means I was limited to the Sansa relying on id3 tags which don't always exist in podcast files). It also wasn't automatic. I had to manually tell idleTunes to copy the playlists.
Media Monkey: This app was highly rated on theanythingbutipod forums. I downloaded it, but didn't get very far. In the 5 minutes I spent playing with it, I couldn't get it to work. Therefore, I decided not to use it (I expect to get programs up and working fairly fast).
saCaster: I was searching UseNet and found reference to saCaster. I never even installed this because it wasn't free software (free in any sense…free pizza or free speech). Sure, there was a "shareware" version, but it was only a 15 day trial. I knew there had to be free alternatives out there, so I kept looking.
Windows Media Player: When put into PlaysForSure mode, WMP would recognize the player and sync files. I could also get playlists on my sansa (although, I have to sync twice for some reason). The only problem was WMP is a Microsoft app (I don't like Microsoft). It also doesn't have podcast support (if it did, I would probably be ok with this). It would autosync to my player. You can set up auto playlists, but you can only do that based on metadata in the file…you can't say "pull all the files from this directory." That is an aggrivation as some/most podcasts don't have id3 information filled out correctly.
Juice/iPodder: Juice (formerly iPodder…they changed names after a fight with Apple). This app provided a nice way to sbscribe to podcasts and will autodownload them. It's also free software (free as in pizza and free as in speech. It's distributed under the GPL) But, sigh, there is no way to coy the files to my Sansa. Even if it did, I doubt it would generate playlists.
After trying that, I was out of ideas. It had been 2 weeks since Christmas and I wasn't real happy with what I had figured out so far. Something shouldn't be this hard. Well, after trying Juice, I opened WMP up, and noticed playlists for the podcasts I had subscribed to. Interesting. So, I added a few new podcasts to Juice, synched them, opened WMP and they showed up. Once I set them up to sync, everything ended up on my ipod corectly.
So, where I am right now…I have Juice downloading my podcasts. WMP is set up to monitor that directory for new items to add to my library. Juice manages the playlists for me (when it downloads new stuff, it updates a WMP playlist). I can then sync things over to my sansa. I'll give this a few weeks then I'll update again after spending some additional time with this setup.
[Update 6 Jan 2007] Well, it turns out that my WMP playlists aren't being updated when Juice downloads new files. I don't know what the problem is, but I am looking into it. When I find out the problem, I'll post it here (with hopefully a fix too)
[Update 7 Jan 2007] I used sysinternals filemon tool to see what Juice was doing. It was checking some database in the WMP folder. This got me to wonder if it was checking to see if WMP knew of the files or not before adding them to my playlist. So, I fiddled with some settings in WMP and had it NOT monitor the folders where I download my podcasts to. For the time being, that makes a difference.
[Update 27 Jan 2007] Refer to this post for a script I wrote that solved my Juice podcast and playlist problems.