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As you may expect SonicStage is similar to iTunes and Windows Media Player in providing you with a music management interface (library) including all the necessary tools for importing music and transferring it to relevant players. Music can be scanned from your existing library (providing it's not DRM protected) or imported from a CD. You have the choice of ATRAC, ATRAC lossless, WAV, MP3, WMA, AAC, and HE-AAC, audio formats and bit rates go as high as 352kbps. There is also a portal for buying music online from Sony's Connect store. Single tracks are £0.89 or £0.99 while albums are generally between £7.99 and £9.99.
SonicStage does all this perfectly adequately and I certainly couldn't fault the software for basic functionality. However, it just isn't that slick. Moving from iTunes with cover flow showing all my album artwork in its full glory to SonicStage's clunky library with its tiny artwork icons just feels like a step back in time. Other little annoyances include not being able to skip straight to a band or album just by pressing a letter or number on your keyboard and, in the same vein, play/pause isn't controlled by the spacebar - minor things, but they all add up. Also, not that I buy music online, it doesn't help that the Connect store charges £0.10 per song more than iTunes.
So, the software is a bit of a let down but is it bad enough to affect the overall verdict of the Walkman? Well, that depends. If you can't bear to be without your beloved media player then having to use SonicStage may prove too much of a hassle over just dragging and dropping to a Sansa - especially if you're not too bothered about video. However, if you're prepared to make the change then the overall Walkman/SonicStage experience is a positive one that I'd recommend over an iPod nano any day.
As for price, a 2GB Sansa can be had for as little as £70 which, even given its slightly lower specification, makes for an undeniable bargain. The cheapest I could find the 2GB Walkman for was £109.99 so it's struggling to compete. As for the nano, it doesn't play video, has the worst sound quality, and has a relatively small screen, so, at £99, it's not really a contender, despite being such a revalation when it first launched.
Sony's first attempt at a video Walkman is most definitely a resounding success. It combines sleek looks, magnificent sound quality and a competition beating feature set. If you can face using Sony's SonicStage software then it betters Apple's iPod nano without doubt. However, the real contender remains the SanDisk Sansa and at £40 less than the Walkman the little known underdog is probably still the champion.
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