The NW-E000 isn't as simple to use as the iPod Shuffle (or even the feature-filled Samsung YP-U2), nor is it as intuitive as larger flash players, such as the Creative Zen V--in fact, I had to refer to the manual many times to figure out all its uses. However, it is small (3 by 0.8 by 0.4 inches), and it comes in an array of shiny colors and includes some decent features, so if you don't mind the learning curve, it might be worth it.
The NW-E000 includes an FM tuner with strong reception, an autotuning feature, and 30 preset slots. You can shuttle the sound between four EQ settings--Heavy, Pop, Jazz, Flat--or there's a five-band custom selection. There's also a clock onboard and a sport timer, which is essentially a single-setting stopwatch that counts down the minutes for you and chimes at zero. You can even rotate the display for left-handed use, and the shuttle rocker responds accordingly. Some of the more unique highlights are the display animations and Sony's fabulous quick charge function, which gives you hours of battery life after just a few minutes of charging.
As usual, this Sony MP3 player is a great performer. Tunes sound rich and clear, and volume really cranks. The standard advice applies here: Replace the included earbuds. They make things sound hollow, and they're not terribly comfortable (they're also the only other thing in the package aside from the software disc). Battery life is rated at 28 hours, but CNET Labs was able to squeeze out only 18.8 hours. This number is still commendable, but we've come to expect better from Sony's players.
Finally, I must point out that Sony is taking a step in the right direction by adding AAC and WMA support to its latest MP3 players, and that includes the NW-E000. Of course, it also plays MP3 and both protected and unprotected ATRAC files (WMA and AAC must be unprotected). This is a surprisingly open attitude from the company that once didn't even directly support MP3 playback. Unfortunately, Sony rather takes the shine off it by requiring that you use SonicStage to transfer tunes to the device. This software is simply awful--I found myself hating it all over again in the few minutes it took get some tunes on the NW-E000. It's poorly laid out and does not organize music in an intuitive fashion. For me, this is a deal breaker. But for those who are accustomed to the SonicStage/Connect universe, the NW-E000 should make the cut.