Despite the awkwardly placed connecter, Sony has pulled out the stops when it comes to the bundled earphones. Rather than just throw in a cheap pair, the included noise-isolating earbuds sound great. They block out external noise and three sleeves are included to cater for different sized ears. The result is excellent bass reproduction usually only found on more expensive earphones or larger headphones.
The NW-A800 is very flexible on the file formats it supports - in addition to Sony's own Atrac format it's also happy to play back MP3, WMA and AAC files without the need for conversion. It won't support encrypted WMA or AAC files, such as those bought from Napster or iTunes though. If online music purchasing is your thing, then you'll have to use Sony's own Connect store instead.
It's also reasonably up to speed on video formats, with support for iPod-friendly MPEG-4 video files and AVC Baseline files as well. Conversion from other formats, such as DivX or Xvid, is handled by a bundled PC application. Conversion time will depend on the speed of your PC, but on a decent machine it'll take around one minute to convert a minute of video.
There's a range of tuning options available: the graphic equaliser has four presets available and also a user-programmable custom mode so you can get exactly the sound you're after. Sony has also included its own Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) technology, which claims to be able to restore high frequency ranges lost due to compression, although the effects weren't particularly noticeable on the MP3s I used.
Audio playback is very good, with the NW-A800 able to handle both laid back jazz such as Miles Davis and more dancier tracks such as the Chemical Brothers equally well.
Video playback is less impressive, mostly due to the tiny screen size. Clips play fine, with no noticeable dropped frames and the display is sufficiently bright and clear - it's just there isn't enough of it to make it that enjoyable an experience.
Believe it or not, SonicStage has improved considerably over the past couple of years.
Of course, it's still an absolute dog to use and the user interface is so bad that Helen Keller could probably have done better, but at least the version I'm using (4.2-ish) is stable and doesn't have the totally insane check-in/check-out thing that earlier versions had. Version 4.x will do gapless ATRAC rips, at least on my MD player.
FWIW, I have used RealPlayer to transfer stuff to my NetMD minidisc player, but I've no idea whether or not it would work on this particular device - it's far easier to use, and more stable, than ChronicStage, but you will need to download extra drivers from Real to support Sony devices.
Well I read ATRAC as "stay away", but I've only owned one of their ATRAC mini-disk player (the software was indeed very annoying) so maybe I'm not an impartial judge.
A Video Walkman...
...a Stumbleman, perhaps...?
(BTW - Am I the only person who can't help reading Sony's "Atrac" music format as "EightTrack"?)
Have Sony improved on their PC-side software since SonicStage and the initial versions of SonyConnect? The software that I used a couple of years ago was so terrible -- even compared to how bad most other software for interfacing with portable devices is -- that it was a complete deal-breaker, despite the decent hardware.
Also, does it play MP3 gaplessly? Sony have long been able to play ATRAC without gaps which is nice, but having to convert all your music to ATRAC isn't so nice, especially when their software doesn't provide a way to batch transcode, except in a way which adds gaps. (Last I tried SonicStage, you'd only get a gapless ATRAC rip if you went from a CD or virtual CD, which made the whole thing a right pain.)