thankfully, radio shack had my back.
a 2g sansa e250 was $90, a 2g microsd card for its upgrade slot was $30, and the service plan another $30.
the battery on this unit is actually user-servicable if you have a jeweler's screwdriver set, but i reasoned they probably charge about the same for a replacement battery, so why not go for the service plan in case something else breaks, or i decide i hate it and throw it on the sidewalk a few times; because the shack's service plan gives you a refund, not a replacement unit, so you can go buy something else if you want. this is a bit of corporate non-evilness that i would like to see more of, and it played into how i decided to "vote with my paycheck".
other thing i like: it has a rotating scrolly wheel like the original ipod; i always liked the tactile sense of that more than the touch-surface. i always overscroll on touch-based ipods, and had to learn to be exact with the original, but the sandisk has a bit more resistance in the "clicks". around the wheel are menu navigation buttons that are intuitively directional, and can be used instead of the dial if you don't like it..
the thing i actively don't like so far is that the "record" button is directly across from the sd card slot, so i tend to forget it's there and mistakenly press it when i'm swapping the microSD card over to/back from my laptop. and i kinda wish the device's OS just added the SD card to the available diskspace rather than treating it as a separate device. also, i can't use the ipod plugin to feed all my plays to last.fm, but i guess you can't have all of your music-whore desires satisfied if you're a skinflint. oh- and the back cover is made of that kind of metal that changes color when the oil from your skin gets on it, so it's always smudgey.
i'll admit that ~$160 after tax made me wince at the register, but...
the final touch? the bitch plays video, mofo! it's a decent deal compared to a nano, but a good one compared to a video ipod.
and apple already made enough money off your iphone. they'll be okay.