After the disappointments of its first two hard disk based Walkman music players, it looks like Sony could be on the verge of getting it right.
Just on Monday I was bemoaning the lack of a decent Sony MP3 player. Bing! Like magic out pops something that looks really rather promising.
The NW-HD5 (sexy, love it, love it) seems to have finally knuckled down and understood what it means to be a serious player in this immensely competitive market. At 20GB it is heading straight for Apple’s big seller the 4G iPod and straight off the cuff it cuts its weight to just 125g. This is 33g lighter than the all powerful iPod and just 22g heavier than an iPod mini.
The old bugbear of MP3 playback is also no longer an issue, given its support of the format for the first time on its predecessor (the NW-HD3), while battery life is now an almost ridiculous 40 hours. Yes, this is when playing Sony’s propriety ATRAC3Plus format at 48Kbps, but either way it slays the 4G’s 12 hours.
Another big feather in the cap of the HD5 is that the battery is replaceable and Sony claims spares will be available in all high street stores. Given the fixed state of the iPod’s battery (at a push it can be replaced with a lot of technical know-how), you can see the hardcore focus of the HD5’s attack.
Continuing the innovations is what Sony dubs the “Follow Turn Display”. What this cleverly does is automatically reposition the 1.5in screen’s menus horizontally or vertically depending on which way the HD5 is held (see above). In addition, a G-sensor will detect if the player is dropped and enable shock protection (much like we have seen IBM provide with its laptops).
The HD5 will be available in black, silver and red and hit stores as early as May. Retail price will naturally be an iPod undercutting £199 including VAT, with a limited edition 30GB model set to be launched in June (pricing not yet finalised).
So everything looks promising on paper. Could Sony finally be about to do itself justice on the MP3 player scene? Well, there remain two big questions. Firstly, will Sony iron out all the problems with its Sonic Stage software which is currently light years behind iTunes (which it not perfect in itself)? Secondly, will the decision to stick with a mono display come back to haunt Sony given that Apple is rumoured to be readying colour for its 5G iPod?
Only time will tell.