Build quality is up to Sony's usual high standards, though the predominance of plastic does rather mark the E as a player built down to a price. Yet it's a solid device and should prove up to coping with the punishment any modern MP3 player can expect to come its way.
Decent build quality - but lacking pizzazz
In terms of sheer style, though, we don't think the E is quite as slick as either the Nano or the SanDisk Sansa Fuze. The latter, with its fully flush screen and glowing blue navpad surround, is still one of our favorite players from a purely aesthetic point of view.
The E's basic menu structure is clear and simple. A 3 x 3 grid gives you direct access to your videos, pictures, music, the FM radio, whatever is currently playing, and the various device settings. Just use the navpad to highlight the relevant icon then press the centre key to select. It's intuitive, straightforward and fast. You can't really ask for much more from a menu system.
Format support is limited to the usual suspects: MP3, non-DRM AAC, WMA with and without DRM, MPEG 4, H.264, AVC, WMV9 with and without rights management, and JPEG. Quite why Sony has utterly abandoned ATRAC users is anyone's guess as is its refusal to support FLAC, which seems wholly perverse given that Sony trades on the perceived audio quality of its products. There's no Ogg, either.
Though the bundled earphones aren't in the same league as the ones than come with an A-series Walkman, they still proved capable of producing a clear, punchy and distortion-free sound. Sound modification is limited to a five-band graphic equaliser with five pre-sets and the option to set and save two more of your own.
HDD based mobile players use the drive very little unless you are changing tracks manually and often (but then its in the hand and not being 'banged about'). The speed of HDD reads means you can read a lot of music and play it from cache. Thus the drive is bursting data and spinning down - making hdd work in handheld devices was a done deal before the ipod, the reason you don't see many anymore is due to solid state price decreases.
If people cared about music and stopped compressing the hell out of everything, hdd players would still be around.
I've got an 8GB Sony Walkman NWZ-A8178 and the build quality is fantastic, it feels completely solid and is finished in a metal case. The sound quality that I get from the earphones that I got with it is brilliant, plenty of bass and with clear high pitches. It's the easiest to use mp3 player that I've ever had, the menu system is so fast and logical, no stupid messing about with a stupid scrolly wheel thing like an iPod or whatever. It's so easy to use that I can use it whilst it's still in my pocket, I don't even need to see the screen. Oh and the screen is brilliant clear and bright, even outdoors. My last mp3 player (a Philips one) had such a bad screen that with any sunlight you couldn't see a thing on the screen. And best of all - it was only £72.
I love Atrac too (it is a superior codec), but get with the times mate. Sony HAS to do this to get back in the game and I am glad they did. SQ wise they still kick Apple's ass even when using lossy MP3.