Like the design, the software of the Sony NWZ-E463 is fun and exuberant rather than incredibly slick. However, the negative side of this description comes from a comparison to Apple's players. This interface is comfortably prettier and sleeker than that of Cowon's and Sandisk's players.
Scrolling through albums and tracks is quick even when the player's full and there are tasteful animated transitions between the various menu pages. The basic music interface boils down to the usual fare - you can browse through content by Artist or Album name, Genre or Year. Tiny versions of album covers feature in the albums list too - this is one player that really makes use of a properly tagged and labelled music library. A neat extra missing from some players is the ability to browse through your music folders as they appear within the file system.
While the Sony NWZ-E463 doesn't have apps or games, it offers plenty of audio-related features. It supports bookmarks, song lyrics and playlists, allows you to record audio from the pinhole microphone on the back in 64/128/256kbps MP3 format, has an FM radio (no recording here though), lists podcasts properly when used with the sync software, and has a wealth of superficial-but-fun modes.
There's Karaoke, which fiddles with the stereo channel balance to (attempt to) cut out or quieten-down vocals, complete with a key changer option for those tricky falsetto numbers. The DPC speed control is arguably even more useless, speeding up music to 2x or slowing it down to 0.5x normal pace without changing pitch. There's a use for every odd extra feature though - it comes in super-handy for guitarists trying to learn parts, for example, and is nestled in an easy-to-ignore options submenu if it doesn't appeal.
The piece de resistance of the NWZ-E463's sillier features is SensMe. This analyses all your tracks - it takes a few seconds per song - and fits them all into nine different moods. These are Energetic, Relax, Upbeat, Mellow, Lounge, Emotional, Dance, Extreme and Morning. It had a remarkably good stab at this too, and the interface is pretty and intuitive. It dropped Tim Hecker into Mellow, Kanye West's beatier bits into Dance, Smith Westerns' poppier songs into Upbeat and some of Four Tet's more chilled numbers into Relax. Extreme was largely a mystery, but then we didn't load the player with any black metal, this time.
SensMe analyses the tempo and dynamics of each track to split them into group. It's science folks, no wonder it works pretty well.
The categories seem to overlap to us - what's the difference between Relax and Mellow? But for those of you who, like us, aren't patient enough to make playlists for every occasion, it'll come in useful - if only for when you can't stomach much more than a chill-out session.
In the past we've criticised Sony's seeming obsession with these odd, often superfluous additions - the NWZ-B162's Zappin' feature standing out as a low point - but here they're entirely inoffensive. And each has valid uses that'll act as powerful reasons to buy for some.
The interface isn't without a few niggles though. While you can browse the menu system when playing music, you can't do so as you listen to the FM radio or a podcast. Try to back out of their specific areas to the main menu and playback will stop. Drat.