OK, so the lack of MP3 support isn’t an insurmountable problem, but SonicStage definitely is. I remember looking at Version 1 of SonicStage and finding it awkward and convoluted, and even though Version 2.2 is far better, it is still an unpleasant application to use.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what’s wrong with SonicStage, but I guess the most obvious issue would be that it’s completely unintuitive. I’m fairly sure that anyone that’s used either iTunes or MusicMatch didn’t have to read the manual – both these applications are very powerful music managers, but they are also a cinch to get to grips with. SonicStage on the other hand, has lots of features lurking inside it, but it’s going to make you work damn hard to figure them out.
Take for example, the idea of playlists. With a device that can potentially store thousands of tracks, the ability to create your own, custom playlists is paramount. However, trying to create a custom playlist under SonicStage for use on the NW-HD1 proved to be a Herculean task. Nowhere is there any reference to playlists, so I assumed that Sony has decided to call them something different.
I eventually spotted the “My Compilation Album” button under the Library tab of SonicStage. I then went about the process of creating a Compilation Album, but when I finished it and transferred it to the NW-HD1, it actually copied all the tracks over again, even though they were already on the device. Next I tried to create a Group folder on the NW-HD1 itself. I dragged certain tracks into the new Group folder and when I selected that folder for playback, everything was there – so far so good. Unfortunately, if I created another Group folder and wanted to use any of the tracks that I’d put in the first one, they were removed from the original Group folder. Wading through the help screens proved useless, and even searching the web didn’t shed any light on the subject. I’m sure there must be a way to create playlists on the NW-HD1, but regardless of anything, it shouldn’t be this hard.
So, Sony has proved that it can still put everyone else in the shade when it comes to hardware design, but when it comes to software and firmware, it still has a long way to go.
I really wanted to like, no love, the NW-HD1 because I have never seen a high-capacity digital music player that’s as small, light, and beautifully stylish as this one. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, beauty is only skin deep and once you scratch past the surface of the NW-HD1, it’s not nearly so lovely underneath.
Add to all this the fact that Sony has given the NW-HD1 an RRP of £299 and things start to look even worse. Considering that the fourth generation iPod carries an RRP of only £219, the Sony does look very over priced. That said, dabs.com is selling the NW-HD1 for only £259, but then it’s also selling the 20GB iPod for only £209, so you’re still paying £50 more for the Sony.
Ultimately, the Sony NW-HD1 is a big missed opportunity for Sony. After waiting so long to enter the hard disk music player market, it needed to produce something that was going to put the competition to shame, and although aesthetically the NW-HD1 fulfils this task, there’s more to a great personal stereo than just good looks. And with Sony’s history in this market, it should know this better than anyone.
The NW-HD1 is small, slim, stylish, light and sexy. Unfortunately, the lack of native MP3 support (or WMA for that matter), lengthy file conversion process, convoluted, difficult software, and inability to create playlists with ease takes all the shine of this little Walkman. I’m not the biggest fan of the iPod, but given that it offers better file format support, a superb user interface, excellent software and a £50 saving over the NW-HD1, it definitely looks like the better option. However, if you’re not looking for an electronic style icon, check out the Rio Karma, it’s a better device than both of them.