Pros Good looking, decent player. Excellent audio-quality. Gapless playback!
Cons USB-AC-connector combination.
Summary First of all, I believe it's a fact that there is no perfect MP3-player. They all have pros as well as cons. Consider this when searching for the player of your choice.
For me, this choice was between the iPod (mini) and the NW-HD3. After many nights reading review after review, I finally bought the iPod mini. Audio-quality, user-interface, and iTunes were supposed to be top notch. And they are indeed very good, but still I was a little bit disappointed. Apple's lossless decoder is excellent, but takes enormous amounts of space. And with AAC, I seemed to be missing something in the music, hard to describe. It's clear and nice, but it's flat. And a major con for me: Apple can't play gapless. And the 'join tracks' function in iTunes is not an ideal option for me. By the way, personally I find iTunes not as perfect as everybody says. Same for the so-called Apple intuitive user-interface, it's good, but not perfect. All in all, Apple didn't deliver what I expected... and I traded the unit for a Sony NW-HD3.
As you'll know, many criticize SonicStage, ATRAC, and the Sony user interface... as to now, I didn't have any problems with SonicStage; decoding and uploading went smoothly, and personally I like the way SonicStage organises your library by artist and album, rather than by song as iTunes does.
Then, UI on the unit itself is also quite simple. I don't miss the clickwheel at all. Some people have states that Sony doesn't remember your last entry; that's not entirely true; during playback you can simple move back to song-album-artist; if you press the mode button, then you start all over again, that's true.
But most importantly, audio-quality is the key to all players, and here also the Sony delivers. Overall it's not better or worse than the iPod, just different, and in my ears, more pleasant. About the noise-issue some people noticed, I believe it's there, maybe related to the spinning harddrive, but it's minimal anyway. I find it not very disturbing. And most people listen on the bus/train or plane, so due to the background noise you won't hear it anyway. The millisecond pause between tracks on the iPod is more disturbing to me, especially if you listen to live concerts, of movie-scores. Also keep in mind that many studio albums, although digitally recorded etc, still possess a little bit of noise, anyway.
Add to that, the 20GB harddisk and longer batterylife is a fine bonus!
Concluding this review: neither the iPod nor the Sony is perfect. No player is (yet). It's up to you which player suits you the best; if you care about music-quality and have loads of mp3's on your harddisk, want easy-scrolling on a fine unit, go for the iPod. If you want excellent music quality with gapless playback, don't mind to decode your CD-collection to ATRAC, go for the Sony.
But, the best thing you can do, buy both, and keep the one you like best, return the other. Choose wisely!
Pros Great memory to size ratio, great battery life.
Cons Very few accessories, primitive & awkward software.
Summary First I would like to say that I am a loyal Sony customer. I bought one of their first Walkman’s in the 80’s and one of their first digital camera’s in the 90’s (both of which still work perfectly fine today with characteristic Sony craftsmanship). That is why I pounced on this new Sony NW HD3 when I learned that it was available with mp3. Before this, I had been listening to my music for years on a pocket pc. My main reason for deciding to purchase an mp3 player was because I didn’t like to carry this bulky pocket pc around all the time just to listen to music. My two main choices for size were the iPod Mini and Sony NW HD3. They are both very small and suit my needs (the Mini being just slightly smaller) but Sony wins in the memory capacity to size ratio. At the time of this review, the HD3 has a capacity for 20 GB whereas the Mini only 6 GB. In fact, at this time there is no iPod model that beats Sony’s memory per size. iPod does have the 40 GB Photo model but to a pocket pc user, I still consider it bulky to be carrying around just to listen to mp3’s. That’s just my opinion though, I’ve listened to my bulky pocket pc for years so I wanted something significantly smaller. There are devices even smaller than the iPod Mini but their memory capacities are not enough for me. According to the specs, Sony also wins in the battery life department over the iPod at this time. Unfortunately, this is where it all ends for Sony in my books.
Sony doesn't manufacture very many accessories with this, so I have nowhere to carry it except my hand (the earphones I use are too short to put it into my pocket). If you prefer your own earphones, make sure they are long enough. Sony’s included earphones are long enough but they are just average earphones. Although the HD3 comes equipped to place a handstrap, there is no handstrap available anywhere online to purchase as an accessory. And it’s not easy to find something that skinny to go into the holes and still be sturdy (I ended up using a strap from my Sony digital camera). Not even a belt clip is available as an accessory. Also, I listen to music in the car the most but Sony doesn't even have a car cigarette charger available to purchase as an accessory (I prefer my earphones over an FM transmitter).
The power and data transfer cables are 2 separate cables and it gets messy sometimes. The unit must be connected to the AC adaptor in order to transfer music. And even this connection is not the most secure – it gets loose sometimes. I was expecting the USB cable to charge the unit (in addition to transfer data) but that is not the case. This means you’ll be carrying more cables than you want if you want to sync at a different computer. And it’s not just the cables you’ll be carrying – the cables must first go into a separate small adaptor that accepts the USB and AC cables and this adaptor then plugs into the main unit. In contrast, the iPod Mini’s power and data transfer are all in 1 simple cable, with no extra parts to worry about. I also found the data transfer to be significantly quicker with the iPod (which more than likely has to do with the software, explained later).
When I bought this direct from Sony, they gave 60 free song downloads. I thought this was cool but now I understand why. The Sonicstage software is very primitive and awkward to use. And compared with the iTunes software, it is very slow (maybe 3 times slower). I felt as if I was using the very first version of a program that needed severe updating (and I was using the most updated version 3.0 at this time). And there is not a great music selection like iTunes. I was expecting alot more song availability. And even the songs that are present, have to be typed in with the exact spelling or it will be very difficult to find, if found at all. Sonicstage doesn't even offer spelling recommendations for mis-spelled words in the search. In contrast, the iPod iTunes software is very smooth, quick, and has a terrific song selection. It also offers spelling recommendations if you don’t know the exact spelling.
The good thing about buying direct from Sony is they offer a 30 day return policy. I purchased the iPod Mini during this time and made comparisons (which is how I am able to make this review). I was convinced within the first 5 minutes to return the Sony. The first thing that was evident was the music quality. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the HD3 music quality. There is just an added “crispness” and “feel” for the music with the iPod. I felt the bass better with the iPod but at the same time this did not affect the rest of the music’s “clarity”. It’s hard to put in words. Many people probably won’t notice a difference but I am very picky (I have $160 earphones). And this I experienced using Sony’s earphones, not my own.
Another mind-blowing concept is the iPod Click Wheel (as opposed to Sony’s linear buttons and arrows). I had never used this before. With this wheel, I can control the volume, skip to different features, go to various playlists, and can skip to the exact song I want within seconds despite there being hundreds of songs dispersed through several playlists. And get this, I can do all that with the tip of my thumbnail, within seconds, driving my car! With the Sony, you would need to tediously scroll through your playlists or songs to find the exact song you want. This could be time consuming and inconvenient when driving or working out. And as for features, what other features? The Sony doesn’t even have a clock! The iPod Mini has clock, contacts, calendar, notes, and games.
This did not play into my decision but I have also been told that the iPod is more “cool” (ie/ more sex appeal). I read somewhere that Will Smith has every single model that has come out and that Vice President Cheney also has one.
As for the iPod Mini’s memory disadvantage over the Sony: 6 GB is plenty of music for most users. I personally plan to purchase the next iPod Mini (which should hopefully have greater than 6 GB capacity) and that is the reason why I did not get the free personal laser engraving that comes if you purchase direct from Apple. I figure it’d be tougher to re-sell it if you have a personal laser engraving on it. My advice to you is to do what I did, purchase both from vendors that allow returns (do not laser engrave the iPod), keep the one you want, and return the one you don’t.
If any manufacturers are reading this, please consider these features which are already available in pocket pc’s: 1) To maximize battery life, have the ability of a button to COMPLETELY disable the display (screen goes blank) while listening to music. The user should still be able to skip tracks with the display off. After all, who watches the display as they are listening to music? This could save significant battery life. 2) For when the display is on, why not have an equalizer showing the music as the notes hit their frequency (like the big home stereo’s do)?
Pros great design and size
Cons still doesn't really support MP3s
Summary ...Yet what irks us is that the virtual surround and sound equalizer modes are useable only with ATRAC3, not MP3 tracks, which in our opinion is a major mind boggler. What's the point? Almost every other portable music player allows us to enhance our MP3s acoustically (when EQ settings are available), so why the restriction when most people already have their own MP3 library?...
***? So there is native MP3 support but no sound enhancements???
Pros Great sound and look, solid unit
Cons Dont ever lose the files on your PC's hard drive. Sony wont let you retrieve them from your Nw-HD3.
Summary I've been pretty happy with this player until today. It failed me when I needed it most. I had right around 20G of music on my pc's harddrive that I'd gathered over the years. One of the reasons for choosing this type of MP3 player was to have a backup for my music. Surprise! Today I lost over half of my music and was unable to recover it. Suddenly I remembered "MY SONY!!" I gleefully hooked up the cable and slowly realized that it was not giving up my music... MY MUSIC!!!! It would not transfer to the same PC that transfered the music to the player in the first place! I contacted online support who confirmed the expensive player THAT I PAID FOR would not "allow" me to retrieve music that was no longer on my pc's harddrive.
Roll the dice if you like... I'm sorry that I ever bought the thing.
Pros very small and light and many colors to choose
Cons Can't change the internal battery like the HD5 does
Summary It's a great HDD walkman, very light and nice looking. The EQ's are great. But it is a little bit expensive.