The backlit green display is small, but the resolution is high, making it very easy to read and navigate. You can choose whether you want the display to be positive or negative, but I stuck with negative – the positive setting is just a bit too green for my taste.
What you do get in the box along with the NW-HD1 is a very stylish black docking cradle, a power supply, a USB cable, a velvet pouch and a set of headphones. Unfortunately, the NW-HD1 won’t charge over USB, but of more concern is that it won’t even connect to your PC unless you have the power supply plugged into the cradle. There is also no way of either charging or connecting the NW-HD1 without the cradle, since everything is routed through the proprietary connector on the base.
So, Sony has created a stunning looking digital music player that’s smaller than an iPod and arguably more desirable, but would I buy one? Unfortunately the answer to that question is a resounding no. Now, if you’re wondering why I’m so definite in this answer, it’s because the NW-HD1 has some fundamental problems that just shouldn’t be there, and ultimately these problems ruin what could otherwise have been an excellent product.
First and foremost, just like every other digital music player that Sony has released, the NW-HD1 doesn’t support native MP3 playback and this is, to put it simply, ludicrous. This means that if you have a large collection of MP3 music, you will have to convert it all to Sony’s ATRAC3 standard before you can transfer it to the NW-HD1. So, although copying music to a USB 2.0 enabled player should be a quick procedure, when you’re having to convert your MP3 files it’s an agonisingly slow process. I imported eight MP3 albums to the NW-HD1 and it took well over half an hour to complete the process.
What makes this file format problem even more annoying is that I’m actually a big fan of ATRAC, having previously been a MiniDisc user for many years. What I would really like to have seen was the ability to copy my MP3 files over as they are, and then be able to rip any new music using ATRAC3. That said, there have been rumours floating around about a firmware upgrade for the NW-HD1 that will allow it to play MP3 files natively, and someone “in the know” at Sony recently told me that I should believe those rumours.
Of course one of the reasons Sony has traditionally given for not supporting MP3 is that ATRAC3 produces better quality audio, and I really can’t argue with that. Ripping a CD using ATRAC3 Plus at 64Kbit/sec produced sound quality easily equal to an MP3 encoded at 128Kbit/sec. Unfortunately the next step up using ATRAC3 Plus is 256Kbit/sec which brings with it a correspondingly large file size – however, encoding at this level produces sound quality that is truly staggering. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between an original CD and an ATRAC3 Plus encode at 256Kbit/sec, it really is that good.
One of the big selling points of the NW-HD1 is its claimed battery life of 30 hours, and this is definitely something that’s worth shouting about. This is another reason why Sony has shied away from MP3, because ATRAC3 is a much less demanding audio codec, which allows Sony to achieve such high battery life ratings. However, you have to dig a bit deeper to get the full picture. Sony’s claimed 30 hour battery life is based on all your music being encoded at 48Kbit/sec, and unless you have absolutely no concern with audio quality, you’ll never rip your CDs at such a low bit rate. So, if sound quality is important to you, not only will the battery life decrease, but you also won’t get anywhere near the 13,000 songs that Sony claims you can fit on the NW-HD1 – although to be fair, Sony clearly states on the box that this number relates to tracks encoded at 48Kbit/sec.