Rejoice. Sony has finally relented and included MP3 playback on its Network Walkmans. This makes the NW-HD5 much more consumer-friendly, as it doesn't tie the user to Sony's proprietary Atrac format. It's also a tempting proposition because of its small size - for a hard-drive-based player - and 40-hour battery.

The NW-HD5 has a great industrial look, with its manly metallic finish and square buttons - even if the air of macho brutalism is slightly undercut by the scarlet colouring (it also comes in black and silver). And if we're completely honest, looking good is half the battle with an MP3 player. Unfortunately the other half, the ‘playing music' bit, isn't as much of a breeze for the HD5. Shame.

You see, to get a tune out of the HD5 we had to load up the company's proprietary SonicStage software and let it marshall the tracks on a PC. This is annoying, because SonicStage isn't a patch on iTunes and made us feel bullied when we just wanted to listen to some songs.

We think the wheel on the iPod is ugly but you soon feel the loss of it when you have a hefty storage capacity, as is the case here. Sifting through hundreds of artists becomes a chore when you can only lean on a single button - it speeds up after a while but with a loss of control.

Sound quality is good but ditch the headphones and buy a decent pair. Battery life is a brilliant selling point, as is the fact that the cell is removable so it can be replaced when it dies. We even managed the promised 40 hours of playback in two tests, one at continuous top volume.

Sony NW-HD5: Specs

  • 20GB
  • Atrac/MP3 playback
  • rechargeable lithium battery
  • 40 hours of playback
  • 1.5in LCD
  • USB connection
  • SonicStage 3.1 music management software
  • 89x15x56mm
  • 135g
  • 20GB
  • Atrac/MP3 playback
  • rechargeable lithium battery
  • 40 hours of playback
  • 1.5in LCD
  • USB connection
  • SonicStage 3.1 music management software
  • 89x15x56mm
  • 135g

OUR VERDICT

We really like the way the Sony NW-HD5 looks; we're less impressed by the performance of the software we were press-ganged into using in order to listen to music. Swings and roundabouts, perhaps, but it seems like a hard sacrifice to make for pure vanity.

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