Sony finally cracks to the power of MP3, but it is enough to win those iPod lovers over? We take a look and a listen to find out.
MP3 is not the only new feature on the latest version of Sony's pocket sized music player. Battery life on Sony's players has always been excellent and now Sony has redesigned the recharger. The bulky USB/charging cradle has gone. In its place is a neat, light and portable USB/Power clip. Adding a more portable AC adapter is a bonus on top of the NW-HD3's quick recharge time. That is unless you particularly like sitting your device in a cradle when you want to recharge it or transfer files.
Colours on the NW-HD3 are new too. Gizmo Girl was sent the pink version to review. We don't often review pink gadgets. Our lady readers tell us that they prefer gadgets that men would use. Shocking pink is not for them. In fact, women buying gadgets can sometimes be like men buying cosmetics: if it's ok for your partner, then it's ok for you. So, when the first people in the office to walk off with our Nivea Visage moisturiser and our NW-HD3 were men, we relaxed our rules about pink.
As soon as we switched on the player, we noticed what we think is a clever design detail. The screen is colour washed but not with the ubiquitous acrylic neon blue. You can set it to co-ordinate depending on the colour of the player. The pale, shell pink effect on the player that we tested worked really well. For style, there really is nothing to match the NW-HD3.
When it comes to substance, Sony has made what it regards as a very big strategic step by adding MP3 functionality to the NW-HD3. This does not open up the player as much as you might think because you still have to use Sony's SonicStage Version 2.3 to put music onto the player. MP3 files are wrapped during the copying process which means once on your player they will not transfer on elsewhere. Sony advertises this player as a pocket sized, 20Gb MP3 jukebox. We think its real appeal is to music lovers who buy physical CD albums and want to take their music collection with them. The player has the capacity to hold several hundred CD albums transferred at bit rates up to Sony's highest quality Atrac3plus 256 kbps. Capacity will be nothing like the 900 albums that Sony refers to, which is based on a sub-standard 48 kbps. Still, it is an amazing feat for a device that is similar in size to competitors' 5Gb players, and 128k ripping will still give you a figure in the low hundreds.
SonicStage may not be the most intuitive software for managing music, but we found some advantages to the D-pad control over touch pad and click wheel controls. There were times when we wanted to skip forward a few tracks or back to listen to something again, but we preferred not to take the player out of our pocket to do so. A remote would be the answer but since there isn't one we found ourselves navigating blind using the D-pad. Given that we know our albums pretty well from memory, this worked surprisingly well.
We suspect that the addition of MP3 is more to do with marketing and being able to sell this device in China where MP3 is king than any serious desire to make this a truly compatible device. Nevertheless, the NW-HD3 is both nicer and better than its predecessor. Its focus remains on being a cool music player, whereas other hard drive based players are increasingly display (but aren't able to take) pictures and videos, which can be a distraction from the original reason you bought them. If you like gadgets designed to do one thing very well, then Sony's NW-HD3 is well worth considering.