Digital music players are becoming more popular every day, with tech-savvy consumers often owning several different players to fit various lifestyle-activities. The type of player you own is considered by many to be a gauge of your cultural hipness. Form factors are becoming smaller, storage capacities larger, and prices keep falling. I had the opportunity to sit down with Sony's Personal Audio representatives a couple of weeks ago for a briefing on their Fall 2005 line-up of Network Digital Music Players. Sony won Harris Poll's "Best Brand" of 2005 survey, sweeping the top spot for the sixth year in a row, and it's easy to understand why. With slick new looks and features, and impressive battery performance, Sony's Network Digital Music Players are poised to give Apple's iPod models some stiff competition. Let's take a look at these Sony players and some of their standout features.
Geared towards the entryl e v e l music connoisseur, the affordable flash-based E100 series is about the size of a compact- sized stopwatch and perfectly tailored towards athletic adventures. Don't let its small size fool you, however. Sony says this baby features a whopping 70 hours of music playback on a single AAA battery, which, if true, dwarfs the 12 hours of playback of Apple's iPod shuffle. The skip-proof design is ideal for joggers who don't want to miss a beat—dorky pun intended—and the backlit LCD display allows easy music selection. Since the iPod shuffle offers no display at all, the fact that all E100- series players include displays could be a strong selling point. The E100 plays native MP3 and ATRAC3 audio formats and supports WMA and WAV using Sony's supplied SonicStage software, which allows you to import, manage, and transfer music collections.
The NW-E103 is available in Psyc stereo black with orange accents and with 256MB of storage. The NW-E105 is available in Psyc electric white or harmony blue and with 512MB of storage. The NW-E107 comes in silver with 1GB of storage.
The E400/E500 series is about the size of a small pack of gum with the styling and elegance t h a t y o u ' d e x p e c t f r o m Sony. What the iPod shuffle lacks in control and sophistication, the E400/E500 delivers with a "see it to appreciate it" three-line EL (organic electroluminescence) display allowing you to view track and title information. I am amazed at how beautiful the display looks—by far the most intuitive and eye-pleasing design I've ever seen in a digital music player. A jog dial controller combined with the chic display makes it easy to navigate your music collection. The time/calendar function allows you to view the date and time as a screensaver with a cool stopwatch display enabling you to time exercise workouts. The player delivers a hearty 50 hours of playing time from its fully-charged, built-in lithium ion battery. And using the quick charge feature, you can get three hours of playback with just a threeminute charge. You'll appreciate the skip proof design when you're hitting the trails or lounging on the bumpy morning commute. Expandable controls like bass and treble adjustment come standard. The E400/E500 series plays native MP3 and ATRAC3 audio formats and supports WMA and WAV. Supplied accessories include SonicStage software, headphones and a USB cable. The E500 series sports a Smart Clip, allowing you to wear the player. If you want to listen to FM radio on your morning commute, check out the E500 series, offering the same set of features as the E400 series, but with the added benefit of an FM Tuner (an option none of Apple's current players offer).
The NW-E405 is offered in dark blue with 512MB of storage. The NWE407 comes in contemporary black and with 1GB of storage. The NWE505 comes in light blue or pink both with a metallic finish with 512MB of storage. And finally, the NW-E507 is available in silver with 1GB of storage.
Available October 2005
We had a first peek at the prototype E300 Series, and although it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I thought it was pretty cool, with a bold new "bean" look for a digital music player. I've never seen a player that seemed this, well … organic. The E300 features a built-in USB POP UP jack that allows a space-saving connection to your computer similar to a USB stick. Simply flip the cover, push the switch and the USB jack slides out. When y o u ' r e d o n e , slide the p l u g back in. I love this f e a - t u r e — y o u ' l l n e v e r have to go hunting for your c h a r g i n g cable again. Sony says the unit supports the convenient "three-minute charge for three hours of play" feature with up to 50 hours of playback at full charge thru the rechargeable USB port. Conveniently, you can even transfer music while the unit is charging. A built-in FM tuner comes standard. The E300's display, similar to the EL displays of the E-400/E-500 series, can be flipped for either right or left hand navigation. The E300 series will play native MP3 and ATRAC3 audio formats and support WMA and WAV.