How my own stupidity killed my Sansa Clip

So my last MP3 player (the much-lauded but ultimately disappointing Cowon iAudio 7) died because of a manufacturer error (even though Cowon claimed the repair was not under warranty). This time, I killed my MP3 player (my 2 GB Sansa Clip) with my own stupidity.

The long story
I love Ubuntu, and I keep coming back to it, but every now and then I get distro cravings and have to try something else. I hadn’t had a distro craving in probably over a year. I kept reading all these great things about Mandriva, though, and how well it works with the Eee PC 701.

So I tried downloading it to my bootable USB “key” (i.e., the Sansa Clip) and extracting the .iso the way I did for Ubuntu and eeeXubuntu. No go, though. I got a boot error of some kind (I think it was some busybox thing). When I read up online about how to install Mandriva on the Eee, I found out you have download some premade all.img file and install via FTP. So I dd‘ed the all.img to my Sandisk player, knowing all would be overwritten and thinking I could restore anyway. None of my Ubuntu adventures had affected the Sansa Clip adversely, so I wasn’t worried.

As a sidenote, Mandriva’s installer made me really appreciate the simplicity and speed of Ubuntu’s installer. The Mandriva installation took literally hours, and the first mirror I selected for doing the FTP install kept having trouble fetching packages (with no easy way of switching to another mirror). It also had this annoying Windows-like habit of asking you a question, doing some processes that took an hour or so to execute, and then asking you another question, and then doing more processes. Why can’t it just ask you all the questions up front and then do all the processes?

After Mandriva finally installed, I wasn’t that impressed, but I thought I’d at least give it a go (and I will). Even though resume from suspend worked with the prepackaged Xandros, I couldn’t get it to work with any *buntu flavor, and I’d heard it would work out of the box with Mandriva. Not so. When I try to wake up the computer with a keystroke, nothing happens. If I press the power button quickly, it looks as if it’s about to wake up but then shuts down completely. Very disappointing.

So my next task was to get my Sansa Clip back to its previous state. I realized that the all.img file I dd‘ed over was extremely small, so even though the Sansa Clip was officially 2 GB, it made my drive appear to GParted to be only a few MBs in size. GParted couldn’t recognize the full size, so I thought if I deleted the entire partition and created a new one, that’d be fine. But Mandriva’s GParted, for some reason, doesn’t let you create FAT32 or non-Linux partitions (I’m sure there are packages that could be installed that could add that support—I had no idea what those were).

For a quick fix, since it was nearby, I opened up my wife’s Macbook Pro and used the Mac Disk Utility to erase the Sansa Clip drive and format it as FAT. Bad move. The Disk Utility wiped it out completely, including the firmware!

So when I finally ejected the Sansa Clip and then tried to plug it into my Eee PC, it would not be recognized. It was totally dead. It wouldn’t turn on. It wouldn’t show a little display on the screen saying it was connected to a computer. fdisk -l on the Eee side also showed nothing connected. Same deal when I plugged it back into the Macbook Pro. And finally, same deal when I plugged it into my Windows PC at work.

The real shame of it is that it probably still works… or would work if I were able to get the firmware back on there, but without the firmware installed, the Sansa Clip doesn’t know when it’s connected to a computer, and I need to connect it to a computer to get the firmware installed.

It’s official: I’m a moron. Mandriva, I hope you appreciate all I went through to get you installed.

The short story
I erased the firmware off my Sansa Clip, and now it’s totally useless. Good thing it was cheap.

Goodbye, Cowon; Hello again, Sandisk

My Cowon iAudio 7 crapped out on me after three months. I’m extremely disappointed, since both “official” (CNET and the like) and user reviews for it appear to all be positive. Well, I’m sorry to say that my experience is not. So either I happened to have the fluke lemon unit, or other people are lying.

Yes, there are things I still like about it, even now. The battery life is unmatched by anything else on the market. Officially, it’s supposed to be 60 hours. I’ve never timed it, but I use my player extensively during my commute, and one charge on the iAudio 7 easily lasts a month. It’s a cute size and shape. It can play many formats, although that’s become less of a concern for me since I’ve given up on Ogg and gone back to MP3.

Nevertheless, I can’t say I’ve had an overall positive experience with it over the last three months. The controls were very difficult to figure out and get used to—they are also too sensitive to the touch, especially when I’m trying to skip songs instead of fast-forward. Initially, skipping songs even took two or three seconds to complete, until I did a firmware upgrade.

Sad, garbled Cowon screen This last straw is the screen suddenly crapping out on me. I didn’t drop, crush, or abuse the player in any way, but there appears to be a diagonal crack on the inside (not the outside) of the screen that corrupts the display to the point of being unusable.

I contacted Cowon’s support, and they said they can’t determine if it’s covered by warranty or not until they examine the device. Now they want me to mail it in (at my own expense!). I’m not sure yet whether I think it’s worth the trouble to do so or not. I’ve already bought a new MP3 player (a Sandisk Sansa Clip), and it appears to be much better (simple controls that aren’t too sensitive) for a much cheaper price. And I’ve used Sandisk before; my old Sandisk player lasted me years before breaking. If I did get it fixed, it would be just to see if they’d admit they had shoddy workmanship and cover it under the warranty or blame me even though I didn’t do anything to break it; and then I could just give it away to someone who didn’t mind sensitive controls. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m back to Sandisk and still confused as to why Cowon gets such rave reviews.

Update: I did mail it in, and they said it wasn’t covered under warranty, and I would have to pay US$57 to replace the LCD screen. No thanks. That money was better spent on my Sansa Clip.

Further Reading
Cowon iAudio 7 Review (Ubuntu perspective)
Cowon iAudio 7 Review Addendum