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Sony NW-A808 review: Sony NW-A808

The Good Great sound from bundled headphones; superb, lightweight design; high-quality video; useful equaliser functions; long battery life.

The Bad Lack of FM radio; high price; unfriendly SonicStage software.

The Bottom Line The most beautiful MP3 player we've seen since the nano, with incredible video playback and superb battery life. Sadly, though, the SonicStage software still drags down usability

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8.3 Overall

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The Sony NW-A808 is one of the sleekest, sexiest MP3 players we've seen in, well, ever. On looks alone, it's a worthy contender to Apple's iPod nano and Samsung's YP-K3.

Things are pretty good spec-wise, too -- there's 8GB of flash memory and video playback along with smaller dimensions and a longer-lasting battery than the nano.

Part of the NW-A800 series, we've tested the £180 8GB model, although 2GB (NW-A805, £120) and 4GB (NW-A806, £150) versions will also be available when the range debuts in April.

There's no doubt that Sony has finally succeeded in producing a nano contender, but is it worth the £180 price tag?

The A808 has been designed with elegance in mind. The graphite-black matte finish is complimented by a stylish silver trimming. It's ever so slightly smaller than the nano and weighs a mere 10g more, despite being capable of playing full-screen video.

Screen size is important when you're going to be watching video on a device, and the A808's screen is a very attractive 51mm (2-inch) 240x320-pixel colour QVGA LCD screen.

This model feels as delightful to hold as it is to look at. It also doesn't feel like you're going to crush it during use; it's surprisingly rugged for such a thin and lightweight device.

All navigational and selection controls are on the front of the device and are incredibly easy to operate with a thumb. Only the volume control is situated on the right-hand side, but is comfortably within reach of a forefinger.

The only thing we didn't like too much, like the nano, is that the headphone socket is on the bottom of the player. We prefer these sockets to be on top, but this is just our preference.

The interface reminds us a little of the one used on the PSP, with all the pretty menu icons contained in a three-by-three grid. Navigating through the lists is simple and the controls are immediately responsive, with each icon glowing alluringly when selected. 

Menus are stylish and easy to navigate

Your music collection is sorted in the traditional artist/album/song structure, but we particularly liked being able to browse by the year of album release. The A808 can also pick a year at random and play all music released in that year.

What separates the A800 series from anything else in its class is its support for H.264 videos you've converted and transferred from a PC. Other flash-based MP3 players can cope with video, such as the Creative Zen V Plus, but they use proprietary video formats that result in much larger files.  

Videos are rotated to fill the whole screen and look stunning. The screen is too small for watching full-length movies, but it's perfect for short clips, music videos or film trailers. Because this is a flash player, videos start instantly -- there's no waiting around for a hard disk to seek the correct location. It supports a variety of bit rates, from the watchable 384Kbps to the stupendous quality 768Kbps. Unlike audio, video files can simply be dragged and dropped on to the player through Windows.

Photos look amazing. Once you've dragged and dropped image files on to the device, you can create cool-looking slide shows with some nifty transitions between your different shots. If you divide your photos up into folders on your PC, they appear on the NW-A808 as galleries, with handy thumbnails easily showing the contents.

The music playback screen is informative and tidy. Album art is generally displayed in a small square at the top left of the screen, although you can choose to have floating album art which fills about 80 per cent of the screen during playback. Artist, album, song title and year of release are all displayed in the lower half of the screen, along with a progress bar.

The built-in search feature is incredibly useful for finding artists or songs in a large library. The whole alphabet is displayed on-screen, with unused letters greyed out. To jump to all artists beginning with the letter 'S', for example, just click 'S' and you're immediately taken to the appropriate section of your library.

Playlists generally work as you'd expect, but there's also a dynamic playlist option that lists the 100 most listened-to tracks. You can also have up to five on-the-fly playlists and tracks can be removed just as easily as they can be added, by clicking the 'add to trash' option.

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