Product Type: Sony MP3 players
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Why Sony, Why?
Sony Walkman NW-A1200 8 GB
Member Name: smooth3k
Sony Walkman NW-A1200 8 GB
Advantages: Sound quality; simple interface; value for money
Disadvantages: Screen prone to dust; terrible software
First impressions: Not as sleek or thin as the iPod, but still an impressive looking thing; a semi-transparent design resembling an oddly-shaped egg. The word 'orb' comes to mind, and a friend of mine initially thought it was a phone. Well, I like the looks of it. The screen is green writing on a dark background, which is very easy to read indoors, but a pain to view in sunlight. Furthermore, the unit is heavier than I expected: it's certainly noticeable in your pocket, and NOT suitable for running with. If you're a cyclist, it easily fits into rear jersey pockets and is of tolerable weight, but you might feel the pull on your collar.
This isn't meant to be a lightweight unit, however. Considering it features 8x the storage of my previous no-brand player, I can forgive it being several times heavier and larger. My focus was on the sound quality and storage, and here it didn't disappoint: not only are the included bud-style headphones genuinely high-quality and comfortable (if a little prone to falling out of the ear), they also convey the great sound of this player. Playing MP3 files at 192kbit/s (accept no less!) the bass is full, while vocals are crystal clear. As a guitarist and fan of rock music, it's great to be able to listen to such music with difficult bass guitar being played true to the original, while louder volumes remain free of distortion. I've listened to everything from traditional French music to modern dance, and have yet to be disappointed with the playback. The only faults I have come across are a lack of volume - even with the higher levels enabled - which can be somewhat frustrating when trying to listen on a plane, or in other environments with high background noise. I imagine it's probably for the best, though - with this style of bud-headphone shoved in your ear playing at high volume, I wouldn't be surprised if hearing loss was a risk otherwise.
Navigation between directories is easy, with well-structured menus making it a breeze to hop between artists and albums. Make no mistake, though - the button interface just isn't a patch on an iPod's scroll wheel. It's relatively slow, and just doesn't strike you as being intuitive in the same way the iPod does. Still, if, like me, you tend to listen to albums all the way through rather than flicking from song to song, this won't be a major issue.
The battery life could be an issue, however. While the manufacturer claims 'up to 20 hours', my experience has led me to expect much, much less - around half, if that. This is because the manufacturer's claims are based on listening to a certain bitrate, format, volume, and not turning the player off - which, obviously, does not reflect real-world usage. This isn't a dig at Sony, since all the manufacturers seem to do this, but a more realistic indication would be welcome.
Still, unless you're planning on taking long-haul flights with this player, that needn't put you off the NW-A1200. What WILL put you off it is the software - it's just awful. Having taken your money, Sony then forces you to use its terrible 'SonicStage' software for accessing & adding music to the player. Imagine iTunes - which, in itself, is by no means perfect - but add a few dozen crippling bugs and an ugly interface, and voila! You have SonicStage. The only reason I can possibly come up with for Sony making this software, rather than simply making the player come up as an external drive, is that they want to encourage people to use the integrated Connect music store. Well, SonicStage didn't even recognise the player it was written to support - when Windows would(!) - and I was left with a player that was unuseable on my main computer. Having said that, it did work on my 10-year-old 333mhz PC... very logical, Sony.
Fortunately, after trawling for hours on the net, I found an unofficial alternative to SonicStage that actually works. The bad news is that it is dependent on SonicStage being installed, but the good news is that it actually worked for me, and is a much simpler, drag-and-drop interface. Combined with foobar2000 for managing and sorting music, it turned out to be a fairly simple workaround for Sony's awful software.
Anyway, the software that'll save you hours messing with Sony's official music manager for this player is 'MP3 File Manager', also by Sony, but written for another of its MP3 player ranges. Google it, or find it on the 'SonicStage' Wikipedia page.
In addition to major software trouble, the player suffers from being prone to dust getting under its screen. I thought it might have been unique to my player, but the same has happened to several of my friends, who have the NW-A3000 player. While this doesn't make the player any less useable, it is VERY annoying, and it's a problem compounded by the fact Sony doesn't include any kind of pouch for the player. These can be bought from them separately - at fairly considerable cost - or preferably, cheapo alternatives are available on eBay.
In summary, this is a solid piece of hardware with good features and superb sound quality that's completely let down by awful software and other annoying niggles. If these problems aren't of concern to you, this iPod alternative will offer more bang for your buck than many players out there.
Summary: Solid hardware let down by terrible software
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