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There will always be a place in the world for a small, affordable, durable, intuitive MP3 player with great sound quality--witness Sony's gym-worthy NWZ-B100F series. Available in 1GB ($59) and 2GB ($79) capacities, the NWZ-B100F is an ideal choice for anyone looking for an ultracompact player with excellent sound.
The Sony NWZ-B100F series looks like a high-tech cigarette lighter. Its minimal 3.5-inch by 1-inch by 0.5-inch form fits comfortably in a closed fist, perfect for a morning jog. In fact, the NWZ-B100F has all the markings of a device designed with an athletic user in mind. Each of the device's eight buttons is physically distinguished from one another by shape, size, or texture, letting you operate the NWZ-B100F without looking at it. The player's oversize hold switch lets even the most distracted user easily disable the player's controls, and a metal-reinforced loophole directly beside the hold switch accepts a lanyard (sold separately).
One of our favorite NWZ-B100F design features is the built-in USB plug that lets you connect the player to any computer's USB port without a cable. A removable cap hides the USB connector and although it's easy to misplace, the cap stays firmly on, thanks to internal metal reinforcement. Our least favorite design feature is the squinty, 1-inch by 0.25-inch OLED screen, which displays three lines of microscopic blue text on a black background. The text is crisp and uncluttered, but it's nowhere near as legible as text on the iPod Nano or the Creative Zen V Plus. Fortunately, Sony's ergonomic controls make operating the NWZ-B100F a cinch, without having to reference the screen for navigation cues.
The Sony NWZ-B100F is the Cadillac of under-$80 fitness MP3 players. While workout-worthy competitors such as the SanDisk Sansa Express or the Creative Zen Nano Plus deliver similar features for less, the NWZ-B100F serves up a feast of features, design, and sound quality.
Until recently, all Sony MP3 players suffered the fatal flaw of Sony's miserably unusable SonicStage software. But Sony has unshackled its latest batch of MP3 players, including the NWZ-S610 and NWZ-A810, allowing customers to use popular software options such as Windows Media Player or Rhapsody to organize and transfer music. Because you can connect the NWZ-B100F to a computer using a generic UMS mode for dragging and dropping files, even Mac and Linux users can take advantage of this little dynamo.
While the NWZ-B100F's microscopic screen doesn't offer photo or video support, its audio playback, FM tuner, FM recorder, and voice recorder still provide great value. Audio playback supports MP3 and WMA, as well as purchased and subscription WMA files from Rhapsody, Napster, or Yahoo Music Unlimited.
Compared to other Sony MP3 players, the NWZ-B100F doesn't offer many bells and whistles. The main menu presents four icons: voice recording; music library; FM; and settings. The settings menu is similarly sparse, allowing you to tweak music playback modes, add EQ, automatically populate the 30 FM radio presets, alter recording quality (all recordings are made as MP3 files up to 192Kbps), and set a maximum volume limit. While Sony MP3 players are usually an EQ-twiddlers playground, the NWZ-B100F is light on audio enhancement options, but does offer five useful presets and an editable 5-band EQ with three degrees of cut or boost control.
After scratching the surface, we were happy to find that the NWZ-B100F's music player offers more than meets the eye. For instance, the music library menu makes liberal use of the ID3 tag information embedded in your music collection, allowing you to sort your music not just by artist, album, song, or genre, but by release date as well. (Hello instant '80s mix!) For those who prefer to sort their music into their own methodically organized series of folders, the Sony NWZ-B100F lets you bypass ID3 tag sorting (which can wreak havoc on classical music collections) and instead browse by folder. The NWZ-B100F also supports playlists, although there's no ability to create playlists on the go. Podcast fans will be disappointed that the NWZ-B100F does not offer support for bookmarking long files or automatically resuming playback on files such as audiobooks, which often need to be digested in small doses.
Having seen what features Sony was able to cram into their similarly sized NW-S700F MP3 player, we were a little disappointed that the NWZ-B100F leaves out additional gym-friendly features such as a stopwatch, alarm, or countdown timer. At this price, however, we're willing to look past the omissions.
The NWZ-B100F may be one of Sony's least expensive MP3 players, but it's no slouch on sound quality. In fact, the only MP3 player in this price range that can match the NWZ-B100F's sound quality is the Creative Zen V Plus. While the NWZ-B100F lacks many of the audio enhancement features found on higher-end models such as the NWZ-S610 or NWZ-A810, its out-of-the-box fidelity is much better and more adaptable than players like the SanDisk Sansa m200 or SanDisk Sansa Express, which are comparable in price and features.
The NWZ-B100F's FM radio is easy to use and capable of picking up all the major stations we typically receive at our office. The automatic preset function is disappointing, however, because it populated 20 of our 30 station presets with transmissions that were mostly static. Fortunately, manually adding presets is as easy as pressing and holding the play button once you've located a station worth saving. Making recordings from the NWZ-B100F's FM radio is equally simple: just find an FM transmission you want to save and then press the red record button on the top-left edge of the player to save recordings as MP3 files. The FM recording sounds excellent, provided that the incoming station is clear and the recording resolution is set to at least 128Kbps. The NWZ-B100F's built-in voice recorder is also easy to use and provides decent results when kept within arm's length; otherwise the recording tends to get noisy.
Battery life, usually a strong suit for Sony, is surprisingly average on the B100. Sony rates the NWZ-B100F's battery life at around 12 hours. Our CNET lab tests nearly matched Sony's claim, with a result of 11.5 hours. Regardless, the NWZ-B100F should be able to get you through a week's worth of workouts without any problem.