Sony NW-E400 Review
A few weeks ago, I started to swim in the mp3 market for flash-based players looking for something small and simple as the Shuffle, but better than it. After much research, I decided that that player would be one of Sony’s new NW-E400 series walkman.
The first thing one of my friends said when I told him the name of the player was, “oh but isn’t the XYOS251NLMO-204 better?”. Indeed, the name isn’t one of the player’s strong points, I know that NW stands for Network, which is the name Sony gives to all Atrac3/MP3 devices, so if you take that out of the picture, E400s sound much better, still, a long way to go until it reaches a trendier name like iPod, Vaio, etc. But enough of this and on to the review itself.
The device under review is the NW-E407B* model
* – The letter after the model number refers to the color, B is for black in this case.
The E400 series consists of a number of players, they come with capacities from 256mb to 1gb and the difference is in the model numbers, E407 = 1gb, E406 = 512mb, E405 = 256mb (yes they bothered to release a 256mb model).
The package comes with the following things:
- NW-E407B Player
- USB Cable
- Earphone extension
- Manuals / Warranty / Papers
- CD with Sonic Stage 3
- Carrying bag*
* – The carrying bag only comes with the E407.
The first thing that strikes you when you pick it up is the brilliant design. Sony products are known for their nice designs, and whoever designed this player was certainly inspired. The device consists in two parts and two sides. On the front side most of the area is of the color of the player, in this case black, and has a transparent plastic over it very much like the PSP, the rest of the front part consist of two small round buttons for menu navigation and to change the display, the joystick is reminiscent of the Mini Disks remote control but was very much improved.
The back of the player has the same chromed material that the joystick is made of and has a button to change the Repeat settings for the playlist or to change the sound properties. It also has a little “Reset” button that you can only press with a needle (or something thin) as many electronic devices have.
When the display lights up then you get even more impressed, specially in this model, since the contrast between the black background and the aqua blue letters is great!
Interface (Device) (4.5/5)
If you’ve ever used a Sony Minidisk player then you only need to adapt a little to use this device. I lent it to a couple of friends to try it out and they didn’t have much trouble getting it to run but still, it can’t beat the shuffle in terms of simplicity. I don’t know the restrictions of designing an interface for a flash player, but this one is done very nicely. Basically, you pull the joystick out to unlock the player, click on the menu button to choose what you want to hear and hit play. It has a similar organization that other mp3 players use, you can choose music by the artist name, album or group. From these options the one you’ll be using the most is groups, which shows you the folders you created in your player.
The configuration menu is simple and straightforward, you enter it by holding down the menu button, and you can change the repeat/sound/volume mode/AVLS (high sound restriction)/beep/power save/display screen/date-time settings. You can also enter an advanced menu, which basically allows you to format the player, choose what voltage you want to use when charging with USB and what version the device is, the firmware, etc. I won’t go into details for each option because they are almost all pretty straight forward, this part of the interface is fine.
Interface (PC) (3.5/5)
To transfer music to your player you need to install Sonic Stage 3, you can transfer files normally to it as it were a flashdisk, and even mp3, but they won’t be listenable unless you use the software unfortunately.
Sonic Stage 3 is much better than the previous one by far, but it still has a long way to go to win my vote. The program itself is pretty fast and simple to use, but when you start converting music to other formats with it (only if you want to) then things start getting complicated, and you never truly know what files you’re dealing with in the playlist, the ones in your “My Music” folder, or the ones tucked away in Documents and Settings. A good thing about Sonic Stage is that the Atrac3Plus codec is actually great, all my music in the player is in the 64kbs Atrac3 format and I can’t tell the difference from it and a 128kbs or 256kbs mp3.
One negative aspect that some might forget to mention is that Sonic Stage is only available for PC users, so even if a Mac owner wants to buy this good Shuffle alternative he won’t be able to put any music on it. (When I was looking for a shop to order the player, I checked eBay and saw 3 or 4 people selling one of these players, not because they didn’t like it, just because they didn’t know Sonic Stage only worked in Windows)
Features / Pricing (4.5/5)
If you check out the prices for this player you’ll notice that the price for the 1gb version compared to the 1gb shuffle is around 50$/€ more. So you might ask what you’re getting in exchange for those 50 bucks? Well you get:
- A battery that lasts up to 50 hours (the Shuffle’s last 12 hours) and is removable/replaceable (but it is unclear at this point if Sony will sell the batteries separately, they usually do, but I don’t want to give false promises to anyone).
- A (cool) display
- Playlists are go (and you can also shuffle all your tracks if you want)
- Better sound quality (It’s a Sony)
Are these worth the extra hard-earned bucks? I’d say yes, but my opinion can be refuted by others.
Want Radio? You can purchase the NW-E500 series if you really want it, but you’ll have to pay around 20$/30? more for it.
Overall Score (4.4)
Shuffle Killer? I’d certainly say so, unless you own a mac.