The NW-A805 is the latest attempt to bring the Walkman brand up to date, adding a full-colour screen and video playback to the range. The A805 comes with 2GB of flash capacity, but there are also 4 and 8GB versions in four different colours, as well as a broad range of accessories available separately.
It’s $20 less than a 4GB iPod nano, but easily matches Apple for build quality; in contrast to the almost disposable feeling of many of its peers, the slender metal casing is lightweight and solid. The menu system (as also used on Sony’s Playstation Portable) is also excellent – easy to navigate and responsive, making the most of the bright, high-resolution screen.
As with previous Walkman incarnations, though, it’s hitched to some dubious accompanying PC software. The Walkman Launcher cobbles together the idiosyncratic SonicStage music application, the slightly baffling Image Convertor 3 and a series of online links for downloading video content. While we can forgive things like non-standard window furniture and navigation protocols, it feels unfinished.
As such, getting content onto the A805 can be annoying. JPEG images and MPEG-4 video can be dragged directly on to the device via Explorer, but music has to go through SonicStage. Most common audio file formats (including WMA) are supported, but the only DRM it will handle comes from Sony’s Connect music store, which does at least offer a reasonable range of tracks.
Image Convertor contains an ‘RSS’ section, allowing you to subscribe to video RSS feeds as you would with podcasts – a great idea, but far from intuitive. It’s also not clear how the service will expand in the future.
Its better in day-to-day use – the screen is a little too small to comfortably view a full movie, but it’s stunningly detailed and offers sumptuous colour rendition.
Battery life matches Sony’s 30-hour claims, it slips handily into any pocket and it comes with an excellent pair of bass-handling earphones. If you can put up with the infuriating PC software, the A805 is a joy – but that’s a big if. For sheer value and WMA compatibility, the 6GB SanDisk Sansa e270
is the one to beat. Otherwise, check out the iPods