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Fiddlesticks: Sony Walkman E002, E003 and E005

How much is that Sony in the window? Woof woof. The one with the waggly headphone lead. How much is that Sony in the window? I do hope that Sony's for sale

You can imagine Sony running down the list: organic LED? Check. Colourful translucent lozenge-shaped chassis? Check. Impenetrable SonicStage software? Uh-oh. Check.

That's the problem for Sony's poor old MP3 player division these days. The whole range of Sony players is blighted by a simple flaw that no one in the company seems prepared to fix: SonicStage. Using SonicStage is about as enjoyable as eating glass.

Still, here are three new players, the NW-E002 (512MB), NW-E003 (1GB) and NW-E005 (2GB). We'll hazard a guess that the '004' iteration is missing because the Japanese word for the number four and the word for death are phonetically similar. Interestingly, the Japanese word for 'two' and the word for 'man' are also similar. This is why a Japanese person will get edgy if you live at house number 42.

However, it's not ancient omens that are going to undo these players -- it's SonicStage. While iTunes is the posterchild of the digital music revolution, SonicStage looks like a hungover tramp in a hit-and-run line-up. There's nothing endearing about this software, as anyone who's been forced to use it will be happy to explain at length, at the least bit of prompting.

The release date and cost of the players is currently unknown. ATRAC Life reports that the retail price will be competitive with the iPod nano. Sony is still delivering attractive players, but it's more than a year behind the competition with this hardware, and this pricing. -CS

Update: a full review of the Sony NW-E003 (1GB) is now live.