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Sony Vaio music, photo player to ship next month

European debut announced

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Sony will ship its Vaio-branded portable music player in Europe next month, three months after the unit's Japanese debut, the consumer electronics giant said today.

Sony Vaio Pocket VGF-AP1The Vaio Pocket VGF-AP1's arrival comes a month after Sony has began shipping in the UK its other would-be 'iPod Killer', the hard drive-equipped Network Walkman, the NW-HD1.

The Vaio-branded unit will be made available in two versions, with a 20GB or a 40GB 1.8in hard drive. Sony is pitching both more as mobile media devices than music players. Each machine has a 2.2in, 230 x 240, 262,144-colour LCD.

Alongside the screen is Sony's 'Grid Sense' controller - a grid of 25 small buttons that map onto points on the screen. Arguably, a simple touch-sensitive display or even a trackpad would have been more intuitive, but Sony believes the tactile feedback provided by the grid makes for a superior solution for consumers.

The 20GB VGF-AP1 measures 11.5 x 6.3 x 1.7cm and weighs 195g. The 40GB VGF-AP1L is slightly thicker - 2.1cm - and heavier - 205g. Both contain a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery with enough capacity for up to 20 hours' music playback, Sony said.

Both devices only support Sony's own MiniDisc-derived ATRAC 3 Plus audio format, with tracks transferred using Sony's SonicStage 2.1 app. The software transcodes MP3 and DRM-less WMA files on-the-fly to ATRAC when they are copied to the device.

Sony does offer a true MP3 product in the Japanese market, the HMP-A1, but as yet there's no indication that it will be bringing the device to Europe.

Sony did not provide pricing for the Vaio Pocket, but it's likely to retail for more than the £299 the company is asking for the lesser specced NW-HD1. ®

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