Like it not, Apple has long set the bar for MP3 players; the iconic iPod, the smaller iPod Mini and then the new iPod Shuffle. Across the industry companies are trying to copy, emulate and outdo the computer companies efforts.
Sony, not content with its challenge to the iPod with its NW-HD3 hard drive based player (reviewed here) has announced at CeBIT 2005 a flash based player to take on the iPod Shuffle. Called the NW-E500, the new range of flash based players - ranging from 256Mb to 1Gb. The players promise a far superior battery life, FM radio and more importantly compared to the iPod Shuffle a screen to view your images on. But is all of this enough? Pocket-lint.co.uk travelled to Germany to have a first look of the new player and see if it really does stand a chance at becoming king of the flash players.
Where the Shuffle is the pack of gum in the MP3 world, the NW-E500 is lipstick. Shorter in length than the Shuffle the NW-E507 thanks mostly to the lack of a USB socket on the device has a more rounded feel to it. At one end the player features a cylindrical toggle stick found on other Sony MP3 players in the past most notably the NW-E75. The casing itself is shiny, and while Sony promises that it has made it from durable materials such as acrylic and metallic zinc the end result is a rather plastically and somewhat cheap one.
Beneath the casing is the Organic ED three-line screen that runs the length of the player on one side. The screen offers the usual array of information; song time, track, volume etc. and the individual characters are clear and crisp. Because Sony has opted for the Organic ED technology you won’t get a blank screen when it’s off and this does look a lot better than an empty LCD.
The choice of an Organic ED screen has also been chosen to the increase the battery performance. Unfortunately in this first look we were unable to validate this claim. However even if it’s only half of Sony’s promised 50-hour battery life from a rechargeable battery you can’t help but be very impressed. If the player does live up to this claim and you only used the unit for two hours a day, you could expect the battery to last almost a month. Compare this to the iPod Shuffle whose battery life is only 12 hours and you can see why Sony’s excited.
Controls, as we’ve touched on, are handled using a toggle at the end of the unit. This allows you to twist and select, twist one way and you select the next song, twist the other way and you get the previous one. Pulling the toggle out further gives you different controls namely album rather than song selection and overall the unit is easy to understand and use.
The almost non-existent menu interface is like other Sony players and the songs are broken down into artist and albums but nothing else. There is no playlist support or the ability to create playlists on the fly either - like the Shuffle we are talking the basics here.
Fancy toggles and screens only get you so far in the portable MP3 player world. However, on our initial first look we were able to test the sound quality of the unit with some pre-loaded content from Usher and Destiny's Child. In both cases, the sound quality was very good with the player being able to cope with both the pop of Destiny's Child and the ballads of Usher.
So it is an iPod Shuffle killer? Well the offering is certainly better; you've got a smaller unit albeit using the same storage options, and better battery power. Add to that the ATRAC compression capabilities and you can get around 700 tracks (45 albums) on the 1Gb unit. With the NW-E500 model you even get a radio.
What's the catch? You've got to use the awful Sony Connect software. If only Sony could get this sorted or revert to something like MusicMatch jukebox, which used to be shipped with its MP3 Discman ranges, this player would truly be a force to be reckoned with.