Sony Walkman Bean
Sony is working hard to reestablish itself as a leader--or at least a competitor--in the portable music market. First, it added native MP3 support to its players, starting with the series. Next came the übersleek E400 series, followed by lower prices across the board--an effort to compete more aggressively with Apple's iPods. Now, with the arrival of the Walkman Bean NW-E300 series, Sony tackles the iPod Shuffle head-on with hip design, lots more features, amazing battery life, and an affordable price. Sony also wisely banished the awkward, off-putting word Network from the product's branding. Unfortunately, these positive moves can't overcome the player's poor controls, awkward interface, hiss-filled playback, and steadfast reliance on Sony's weak SonicStage software.
The 512MB NW-E305 comes in Coconut White and Tropical Ice Blue, while the 1GB NW-E307 comes in Black Licorice and, especially for the girls, Cotton Candy Pink. Sony has already lowered prices since announcing the Beans in August; you'll pay $119.95 and $149.95 for the 512MB and 1GB versions, respectively.
It'll come as little surprise that the Bean is shaped like, well, a bean--specifically, a kidney bean, with rounded edges and a slight bend in the middle. Although we applaud Sony's attempt at innovative design, there's nothing particularly practical about a bean-shaped audio player. If anything, the device is harder to hold and manipulate than it should be. It is adorable, though.
The Sony Bean has a small but very bright one-line OLED screen, a five-way D-pad controller, and three buttons, two of which are maddeningly stiff and shallow. A sliding plastic cover reveals a retractable, pop-out USB connector. That's handy, but the cover itself is a problem. When you close it all the way, it engages the player's Hold mode. To disable Hold, you have to nudge the cover back a notch, at which point it wobbles loosely and easily pops open again.