Sony Vaio Pocket VGF-AP1L digital music player

Does colour screen + touch-sensitive control pad = iPod killer?

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Sony Vaio Pocket VGF-AP1LThe Vaio Pocket's sound quality may be good - depending on your chosen bitrate, natch - but it's not the most responsive of devices. Playback isn't interrupted but I encountered numerous short but irritating pauses when skipping tracks, selecting menu options and so on. Pause a song and when you start playing it again there's a short delay while the hard drive spins up again in a way that just doesn't happen with an iPod.

That, plus the colour screen's necessary backlight, will have an impact on battery life. But my continous playback test yielded almost 24 hours' of music from a full charge. At that point, the battery indicator icon was flashing empty, but the player continued to play. I'd have carried on with the test, but alas I had to hand it back to Sony.

During playback, the screen shows not only the usual artist, album and track information, but also a thumbnail of the album cover art. Indeed, there's a entry in the player's main menu that allows you to browse through the machine's library using a panel of tiny cover art icons. It takes a few seconds to fill, as the players hunts through all the songs for cover art, but it's a neat visual alternative to browsing by names and the closest the digital world gets to thumbing through an LP collection.

Pushing any of the GeSense buttons on the far left or right of the panel pops up a navigation or control panel, respectively, each sliding right or left onto the screen. The panels aren't 'sticky' - take your finger off the GeSense area and the panels slide off screen again, which makes selecting the option you want more hit and miss than it should. As you move your finger or thumb over the GeSense area, the cursor moves accordingly. A push acts as a click.

With long menus, such as the main one or the list of all the songs on the device, you'll see up and down buttons appear in the left-hand panel. Using them is fiddly, though - it's much better you move your finger just above or just below the GeSense grid to auto-scroll through the list.

During playback, the right-hand panel provides play/pause, volume and track skip controls in one column, and repeat, shuffle and EQ controls in another. Pushing the EQ button cycles through the pre-sets, which are shown on the screen not as names but as icons reflecting the positions of the bars on the five-band equaliser that underpins it. Again, this emphasis is on visual cues rather than words.

A fourth button in the right-hand panel, with a heart icon, allows you to add songs to your personal playlist ('My Playlist'). There's only one of them, but at least you can edit it on the fly. It's accessed through the main menu. You're presented with the list of songs. Selecting a song and keeping up the pressure on the GeSense area changes the colour of the cursor and pops up a secondary menu. Here, you get to change the order of playback, and remove one or all the songs from the list.

The player remembers the songs you've listened to, recording their names in a series of My History lists. So if you want to find out what you were listening to last Thursday, you can.

Picture this

The photo viewer walks in broadly the same way, listing each download of images in a series of folders listed via the Photo Viewer entry in the main menu. A nice touch is the ability to pull pictures straight from a camera plugged into the dock's USB port.

Once on board, the pictures appear in a new folder. They're initially shown at a very low-res, to allow you to quickly move from one to other. An option on the right-hand pop-out panel flips the viewer from low-res to high, and there's a slide-show facility too. Your own music plays in the background. There's no zoom, and you can't rename or delete pictures and folders on the player. A third button sets the viewed photo as the album art of the song that's currently queued up.

Next page: Verdict

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