Sony Network Walkman NW-HD3 $300
3 x 2.5 x .625 inch, 4.625 ounces · sonystyle.com
Memory 20 GB
Formats supported MP3, ATRAC3, ATRAC3plus
Secret weapons Excellent software and a slick design give the modern Walkman some decent firepower for its shootout with Apple's champion. Sony, not really known for its computer software, did a great job creating the SonicStage music manager, by far the most intuitive and aesthetically pleasing of any of the programs among the iPod killers here. It interfaces seamlessly with Sony's Connect.com music store, whose ATRAC3 downloads sound very good, but its selection isn't quite as extensive as at the iTunes store. The player's horizontal form factor is a little jarring, but it really grows on you once you get a feel for the design (love those rounded edges!). Its play/pause/skip button isn't touch-sensitive, which at this point is a welcome relief. Sony offers the NW-HD3 in a choice of red, blue, silver, black, or pink.
Extra ammo As menus go, the Walkman's are nicely succinct. They don't mire you with too many options, and you can still fine-tune details like the sound equalizer or screen contrast. Too bad the screen itself is pretty dim.
Weak spot One word - adapter. In an incomprehensibly lame move, Sony chose to make both the USB cord and power cable connect to the player through a single, removable adapter. This small (1.125 x 1.75 x .5 inch) piece of plastic is flimsy and sometimes hard to detach, plus it renders the player unrechargeable and musically paralyzed if you ever lose it.
Mission report The Network Walkman's smooth skin and friendly software help it take decent aim at the iPod, but that goofy adapter keeps it from scoring a kill.
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