Sony Walkman NW-A1000

The best MP3 player from the big S yet - but is it an iPod killer?

Review When Apple's iPod began to take off in a big way, it left the rest of the market standing. Sony and most other 'serious' audio electronics manufacturers were either over-sceptical about computer-based music formats or were too conservative in their approach to catch the first bandwagon as it rolled on by.

It hasn't helped that Sony, Apple's biggest rival, has had to cope with a barrage of criticism following revelations that it had installed unauthorised copy-protection software on hundreds of thousands of its customers' PCs, via music CDs. The company is badly in need of a good news story to boost its battered image and it's desperately hoping that the new Walkman can provide it.

Sony Walkman NW-A1000

On the face of it, things look extremely promising. Sony sent over its smaller-capacity 6GB hard disk player, the NW-A1000, for us play with for a few days and we were immediately bowled over by its looks. It looked good in the press photos but we can report that it looks even better in the metal. As luck would have it, Sony had the good sense to ship it in its slick black, white and silver colour scheme and not one of the rather lurid metallic purple, pink and blue alternatives.

The Walkman's screen is hidden under a layer of tinted, translucent plastic so that when it's off you can't see it at all. When it's on, the bright white OLED lettering glints through as if it's part of the player's surface. On closer inspection you can just about make out the edges of a square screen, but envious friends and colleagues viewing from a distance will be none the wiser.

Its soapbar-shaped body fits snugly in your palm but, try as it might, Sony still can't match the iPod's click wheel for speed and ease of use. The Option and Back buttons are placed so that you have contort your thumb to reach them and all of the controls are a little on the small side too. Sony has compensated by adding several useful navigation and search aids to the player. Songs, albums and artists can be located by initial letter, which saves an awful lot of clicking. While listening to tracks you can press the Link button on the shoulder of the device to locate other artists in the same genre. You can access tracks by their 'Play history' - just pick a date and you can relive your music choices for that day. And there's the option to browse the most recently transferred tracks too.

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