(Pocket-lint) - With the announcement from Sony yesterday of its new 20Gb hard drive MP3 player, Pocket-lint was given an exclusive chance to get a hands on play with the new player. So does it have what it takes to challenge the wonders of Apple and have Sony final cracked the form factor to make this player something worthy of being seen with. Read on to find out.

We have to admit from the outset we like the NW-HD1 and the NW-HD3 previously released from Sony. The units offer a good alternative to the main players in the market if it were not for Sony insistance on using the SonicStage software.

The HD-NW5 is the same - showing it around the office we were presented with "Wow", "That looks smart", "I want one" - always a good measure of the fabgadget factor, but most of all people couldn't believe that it wasn't a 5Gb player.

And you would be right in thinking so. With a minute form factor and a weight, as one journalist we spoke to, nothing more than a cupcake, the player on the surface doesn’t look capable of being able to pack a 20Gb hard drive within its casing. Poppycock we thought when we received the press release, ah they must have done a “Shuffle” job and removed the screen expecting you to randomise through all those songs because it’s the hip thing to do right now, but no, the screen is there and in fact in negative and positive modes to help you see in the bright or dark conditions.

The screen is large enough to give all the relevant details you’ll need to get the grasp of what song you are listening to; song name, artist name, album name, genre, file format, recording rate, tack number, time elapsed and battery charge.

When you’re not listening to an individual track there are two main menus - the first seems rather pointless, containing shortcuts to the main menu, the options button, and the playback screen mentioned above. The second is the core of the unit and offers Artist, Album, Track, Genre, New Tracks added since the last update and the our favourite Initials Search that allows you to search track names by intitials - something that the iPod certainly doesn’t do.

Options for the NW-HD5 seem to be endless, there is AVLS (audio volume limter system) so you don’t blow your ears out, additionally you can opt for the 6-band Equaliser, or Digital Sound Presets, you can even opt for VPT Acoustic Engineering to give you a Studio, Live, Club and Arena feel to the music. For those who are planning connecting this to a stereo the unit also offers a chance to output to the headphones or Line-out.

We tested the player with a number of different tracks including The Cure, The Futureheads and Green Day. The sound was good across all the tracks we played included some stuff from Air. According to Sony, the HD5 has also got built in G-Sensor shock technology that automatically moves the recording head away from the hard disk if the sensor detects a fall - ensuring the hard disk is safe at all times. To be honest we couldn’t test to see whether this was true or not, however we can say that listening to the music and jumping up and down doing some flash mobbing in Waterloo station caused us no issues with interrupted sound - just embarrassment.


So what’s the verdict? We are certainly very impressed with the size, it’s small and compact and we’re still struggling to see how it all fits in (we weren’t allowed to take a screwdriver to it). The size is doubly impressive as there is such a large screen on the player (see images) - then again Sony have been shrinking things in the Walkman business for a quarter of a century.

As for battery life Sony promise a massive 40 hours we’ve been playing it for 24 hours non-stop and it’s still going - something that can’t be said for our iPod. Better still, the battery is removable when it does come to eventually dying and Sony has said that this will cost £30 to replace rather than having to send your machine away to be fixed.

So what’s the catch, there must be a catch, there is always a catch I hear you cry. Well you’ve got to use SonicStage 3 to transfer files to and from the device. This is Sony’s weak link here, if only they could get that sorted we would truly have a new king sitting at the podium. So Sony, if you are listening get this fixed, convince some third party manufacturers to make a heap of add-on accessories and you’ve got a winner on your hands. If you haven't been bitten by the iPod bug and you need a new player, this is the one to have.

Writing by Stuart Miles.