Sony NWZ-E453 Walkman
Squarely aimed at younger music fans, the NWZ-E453 makes up one-third of the brightly coloured E Series, which also includes the NWZ-E454 (8GB) and the NWZ-E455 (16GB). The model we're looking at comes with 4GB of built-in memory and offers up to 50 hours of music playback and 10 hours of video, says Sony. It's available in black, red, pink, blue or green and as well as conventional music playback it also boasts a Karaoke Mode that's sure to appeal to all those X Factor wannabes, and plenty of others too.
The diminutive player is light and compact enough to fit comfortably into your pocket and sports a chic glossy black front, incorporating a clear plastic fascia that spans the front of the player. The circular control and the play button sport a grippy surface made up of concentric rings, similar to surface of a record, giving the player a quality feel. However, the Back and Option buttons appear to be made of cheap plastic, with a rather flimsy feeling mechanism. You'll find volume up and down buttons on the side of the player, along with a hold button to stop you from accidentally skipping tracks while the player is in your pocket or bag.
On the bottom of the player, there's a Mini-USB port for hooking the player up to your PC with a USB cable, along with the headphone jack. This is well placed as it means that you don't have to contend with the headphone wire dangling down in front of the screen when you're trying to change tracks, as you do on players with top-mounted headphone sockets. The headphones themselves are pretty comfortable and offer a decent sound performance while the extra-long 110cm cable (yeah, we measured it) means that you've got plenty of room for manoeuvre.
Although a little on the small side, the 2-inch QVGA LCD screen is very clear and sharp. The Home menu is reassuringly logical and the icon-based system makes it very easy to navigate. Once you've got past the home screen, the slick black and yellow menu system is also pretty self-explanatory.
There are several ways to transfer music to the player - you can either move it across from a CD using Windows Media Player 11, you can use the bundled Content Transfer software to load tracks straight from iTunes or you can simply drag and drop files using Windows Explorer. The Walkman supports playback of MP3, AAC, and WMA (DRM) L-PCM files.
The karaoke mode suppresses the vocal of your chosen song so that you can sing along instead. It's a very strange effect, but extremely clever none the less. If the song's lyric file is stored in the player then the words will be displayed on the screen for you to sing along to. You can create a lyric file with the extension .lrc and the same name as the song file and put it into the same folder as the song. The karaoke mode also lets you raise or lower the song key to fit your singing register.
Another clever feature which you'll either love or look at once and ignore for evermore is SensMe, which is a little bit like the Genius function on iTunes. This feature automatically chooses songs and fits them to the themed channels that include Extreme, Morning, Energetic, Relax and Upbeat as well as timed themes comprising Morning, Daytime, Evening and Night. Sony's 12 Tone Analysis software analyses the sound pattern of each song to determine which theme it fits best.
The Walkman also offers several other playback modes including options for shuffle and for looping one song so that you can listen to it over and over again. You can select from a variety of psuedo-surround sound modes such as Studio, Live, Club and Arena and you can also choose from a range of preset equaliser options. Settings include Heavy, Pop and Jazz and there are also two customisable presets. You can also increase or decrease the speed of the song which, although not really of any practical use, is actually quite a fun feature.
All of these relatively advanced music settings result in what can only be described as an excellent sound performance, particularly for a player in the sub-£70 price category. The sonics are clean and sharp with no audible noise or interference, even with the volume cranked up. Even the bass performance is suitably meaty, resulting in some some tip-top audio.
Video playback is pretty sharp for a screen of this size and colours are impressively vibrant. The player supports WMV(DRM), AVC (H.264) and MPEG4 and auto-converts video files (H.264/MPEG-4/DivX/AVCHD) with Windows 7. The screen isn't really big enough for watching entire programmes or films, but it fits the bill for watching the odd music video.
The FM radio works well and makes it easy to scan through channels and you can also adopt presets for your favourite channels. You'll also find a few other helpful extras including an alarm clock function.
Overall, this is a great little music player that can also cope with video and has some nifty features, not least the Karaoke Mode. And at just 69 quid, it won't break the bank either.