Sony NW-E105 Network Walkman
Hallelujah! After what has seemed like endless amounts of pressure from the media and the public, Sony has finally given in. Many of the portable audio devices that the company has announced for 2005 now support native MP3 playback. Among these is the Sony NW-E100 Network Walkman series, which includes a lineup of four players: the 256MB NW-E103 ($89), the 512MB NW-E105 (in Psyc White or Psyc Blue, $99), and the 1GB NW-E107 ($149). We got our hands on an NW-E105 in Psyc White for our review.
After its native MP3 support, the first thing that stands out about the NW-E105 is the fact that it's priced to compete squarely with Apple's iPod Shuffle. This is an uncharacteristic move for Sony--the company's audio players are usually priced on the high side; for example, its 20GB NW-HD1 originally sported a $400 tag, but it's now $300. Perhaps more surprising, however, is that the NW-E105 includes a decent sampling of features. You can browse through songs or through folders labeled by album, and there are several playback options from which to choose: repeat all, repeat single, shuffle all repeat, repeat group, and shuffle group repeat. Within the menu, you can select whether you want the track info or time elapsed shown on the LCD. You can also turn the alert on or off (this is a loud beep when you switch tracks; we recommend "off"), choose to have the backlight always off, set the date and time--which pops up on screen when you hold down the menu button--and activate AVLS. This last feature is Sony's Automatic Volume Limiter System, which limits the max volume to prevent "auditory disturbance." Normally, we would doubt the usefulness of such a feature, but when we turned the NW-E105 all the way up--or almost all the way--we understood; this thing gets loud.
The Sony NW-E105 may not be as beautiful or as slim as the iPod Shuffle, but it's no heifer either. Measuring 2.2 inches in diameter and weighing just 1.6 ounces, the player slips easily into any pocket and makes a perfect workout companion (a $15 armband is due from Sony soon). From the front, the NW-E105 is a simple circle, but flip it over and you'll notice the back has a hump where the battery rests; it then tapers to a scant 0.2 inch at the top and bottom edges. Though slightly odd-looking at first, this design fits quite comfortably in the hand. Flanking the relatively small, two-line LCD is a unique rocking faceplate with integrated play/pause and fast-forward/rewind controls. On the left edge of the player is a volume rocker, while on the right edge sits a a covered mini-USB port as well as a switch that toggles between hold, song navigation, and folder navigation. The menu and playback function buttons are sunken into the rear of the player and, as such, can be somewhat difficult to activate. If there's one complaint we have about the NW-E105's design, it's that the plastic casing feels cheap, but the player still seems as if it could withstand some minor abuse.