Review You've got to hand it to Sony. The iPod may be the portable music boss, but it's not stopped trying to take Apple's baby out. It was some time before it seriously plucked up the courage to do so, with the release last year release of the NW-HD1. That was back in late 2004, and it was followed only a few months later by the NW-HD3. Now Sony has produced another hard disk-based unit, the NW-HD5.
So what does this one bring to the table and has it done enough to really put the boot into the iPod? Yes and no. Sony has revamped the design once again and come up with a device with a distinctive look that might not appeal to all. As far as specifications go it's another 20GB player and while the dimensions have shrunk very slightly since the HD3, it's actually 5g heavier, at 135g. It's still not as svelte as the 112g HD1, however. Even so, it's a lot leaner that the iPod, which since the demise of the mono-screened version is only available at a relatively portly 167g. With its brushed metal finish, the NW-5 does feel quite solid in the hand though some may balk at the thin flap covering the USB and AC power connectors at the top. There's also a space for a Sony remote control - though there isn't one included in the box. Nor is there a cradle, Sony having dispensed with it after the HD1. A small fabric cover is provided but there's no belt clip holder included.
Numbers are also up as far as battery life is concerned, with Sony quoting a maximum of 40 hours. This is a theoretical maximum of course, based on 13,000 tracks encoded at a bit-rate of 48Kbps. This is not really sensible of course and Sony does at least quote a more realistic 30 hours for MP3 at 128Kbps. Even using higher bit-rates you'll still enjoy far greater staying power from the Sony than an iPod. The battery is also removable, a nut that Apple has yet to crack, ensuring that when it does start to get knackered it's a simple job to pop open the side and insert a new one. Let's hope that Sony doesn't charge the earth for a replacement. Despite the bundled AC adaptor, the player handily charges over USB, taking six hours to do so.
The biggest change over the HD3 though is the design. While the iPod display is now colour, Sony has yet to enter that territory and has gone for white text on a black background. This looks rather smart though not quite as easy on the eye as the iPod display. It can also be reversed (black on white background) but this didn't look right to me. Of course this may well depend on the colour of your unit. While my review sample was a cool slab of black the NW5 can also be picked up in silver and, rather differently, red.