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Sony Walkman NWZ-A815

Sony has had a long history of making great audio products that, for some reason or another, have fallen by the wayside because it refuses to open up the technology. The latest example of this was the Sony Walkman NW-A805 that I looked at back in April. It was a superbly well featured, easy to use piece of hardware that was fundamentally flawed because it required the use of the crummy Sony SonicStage software just to load music onto it. In this day and age, with Apple's iPods still being seen as the defacto standard PMP by the general public, it simply isn't enough to create a technically good player - the whole user experience needs to be there as well. That's why Sony has finally seen the light and allowed users to simply drag and drop music to its latest PMPs.

The first example we saw of these new players was the NWD-B105, which Jon looked at in August. It was a nice player that maintained Sony's reputation for great sound quality, while also providing a simple and user-friendly interface. Fundamentally, though, it was let down by poor battery life and, of course, it didn't play video. However, also amongst the line-up of new drag-and-drop players is the NWZ-A815, which is the updated version of the video-playing, nano-rivalling NW-A805, that, released from the shackles of SonicStage, finally looks like the player it always should have been.

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On the surface little appears to have changed with the exact same weight (53g), connections, button positions, styling, and colour options (black, white, pink violet, silver) as the previous version. Indeed, externally, the two players are identical bar a small increase in both width (0.7mm) and depth (0.5mm).

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This is both a good and bad thing because the NW-A805 was quite well designed in the first place but equally, it wasn't without its flaws. To start with, a proprietary connection is still used to connect to a computer. With the move to a more open attitude, it would've been nice to see mini-USB used instead, saving on the number of cables you need to carry around with you. To give you an example, I currently need to carry five different cables to connect all my stuff and they're all essentially glorified USB cables. Secondly, the hold switch is still located on the back where it's difficult to operate one-handed. Moving this to the top edge would improve things greatly. These points aside, though, the overall styling, weight, and dimensions are still very competitive.

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Surprisingly, the only major change is one I wasn't expecting at all and that's the screen has been improved. It's still the same 320x240 resolution with the ability to playback video at 30fps, but now the brightness and contrast ratio have been improved significantly. This makes watching video and viewing pictures even better than before. However, video format support is still limited to MPEG4/H.264 so your choice of what to watch is somewhat limited. Moreover, with the upcoming SanDisk Sansa View set to have DivX and Xvid support, this limitation becomes all the more glaring.

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