Sony Network Walkman NW-HD5
Third time lucky?
The display is seven lines long, providing plenty of room for showing the track name, album, genre and bit-rate among other things, at the same time. Underneath the screen are distinctive controls laid out in a plus shape, with two extra buttons on either side. These have a rather strange plastic bubble feel to them and seem unnecessarily small, which may displease the fat-fingered.
One neat trick is what Sony dubs its 'Follow turn' feature. This enables you to change the orientation of the display so you can use it on its side if you prefer. This can be done manually, or if you select the 'Auto' setting and then turn the player off at the desired angle, the display will then magically swivel itself round when you turn it on again. It's not an essential feature but it's a nifty enough to show off to your mates.
Either way, the interface is good, if still not as good as Apple's clickwheel system. To move between albums and artist you need to use the arrow buttons around the central play/pause button and though it's logical it's sometimes confusing as to when you have to push back and when you have to push up. At first I often moved to the beginning of a track when I meant to browse the track listing but I soon got used to it.
Sony's previous players were seriously hindered by the bundled SonicStage software, which was legendary for its awfulness. SonicStage is now on version 3.1 but largely is just as weird and unwieldy as it always was, though it is usable. It amazes me that a company the size of Sony can't devote sufficient resources into making decent software. The great news is that Sony seems to have finally mastered the concept of playlists. Previously, playlists were named 'Compilations' and involved copying tracks over to the player each time they appeared in a playlist, wasting time and disk space. Thankfully it doesn't do that anymore. Genius.