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Trends Sony Walkman NWZ-E353

High Technology Product Reviews | Trends and News | Trends Sony  Walkman NWZ-E353
Sony E Series Walkman (NWZ-E353) MP3 player is very reasonably priced. Not only do you get 4GB of storage, a 2-inch screen, and photo and video support, but for far less than the new Apple iPod nano ($149; 8GB, 2.5 stars), which has a smaller 1.54-inch screen and offers no video support at all. Sony could have stopped there and had a modest-but-cheap product on its hands, and that's what the company did. The Archos 3cam vision ($99; 8GB, 3.5 stars) has a video recorder and Samsung's YP-R0 ($99.99; 8GB, 3.5 stars) has a better user interface and earphones than your average budget player, but the E Series is no-frills device. It's works well, but is a bit boring when compared with other low-price players.

Specifications
Storage Capacity (as Tested)
4 GB
Player Type
Flash MP3 Player
Radio
Yes
Music Playback Formats
AAC, MP3, WMA, Protected WMA
Photo formats
JPEG
Video Formats
WMV
Dimensions
3.7 x 1.75 x 0.4 inches
Design and Features
Sony's E Series NWZ-E353 comes in blue, black, or red; our test unit was a deep, polished red with a matte black plastic rear panel. Unlike most of the new MP3 players which have moved on to touch screens or touch-sensitive surfaces, the 4GB NWZ-E353, which measures 3.7 by 1.75 by 0.4 (HWD), features physical buttons. Its 2-inch, 320-by-240-pixel display occupies the top half of the front panel; below it are an an array of controls. The middle control is in the shape of a wheel with a Play/Pause button at its center. There's no scrolling or moving this wheel, however, which feels strange if you are familiar with older iPod models that sport similar-looking controls. Instead, the wheel is clickable in four points. Two circular buttons flank the wheel control: a Home/Back button and an Option/Power button—how long you hold each determines which action it triggers. A Hold switch and Volume controls are located on the right-side panel and a 3.5mm headphone jack, a mini USB connector, and a lanyard loop are located on the bottom panel.

Performance
The player's user interface is simple to navigate, but it looks like it was designed a few years ago, and the fact that the aforementioned wheel-shaped controller does not in fact scroll also makes the device feel dated. There are nine icons on the main menu: SensMe channels, FM Radio, Playlists, Photos, Music, Videos, Settings, Podcasts, and a shortcut to the music playback screen. SensMe is similar to Apple's Genius Playlists—Sony organizes your music by genre or mood. The FM radio, which is armed with 30 programmable memory stations, is fairly easy to operate, just don't go looking for FM or voice recorders, like you'll find on the SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ ($89; 8GB, 3.5 stars), you won't find them here.

There's a user-programmable EQ that also comes with four presets. Sony excels at bringing out the bass if you want it, so if you're a low-end lover, you'll be able to increase the bass substantially. Of course, with the included earbuds, not much low-end can be heard, and I suggest upgrading to a better pair. If you're up for it, our Headphone Buying Guide is a good place to start your search. Options like Clear Stereo and DSEE (Sound Enhance) are gimmicks you'll find in the Settings menu that I recommend leaving off. There's a Speed Control option if you want to listen to podcasts or books on tape on your commute.

Video playback is not one of the players' strengths. Jagged edges abound, and even if you're not a videophile, you'll notice a modest drop-off in quality compared with much of the competition. Still, it's not unwatchable, and as noted before, other players like the Archos 3cam vision cost more. Photos look about as underwhelming; it's not unlike looking at images on a lower-tier cell phone screen, but again, there's no room at this price for a high quality display.

As far as file support, for audio, the NWZ-E353 can handle MP3, WMA (including DRM-protected WMA), AAC, and Linear PCM files. The player only supports WMV files for video playback and JPG for photos. This is slim pickings, but since the player is so inexpensive, it's a minor criticism.

Sony rates the battery life for the Walkman E Series NWZ-E353 at approximately 50 hours for audio playback and 10 hours for video playback—both of which are impressive numbers. We will publish our own battery test results here shortly.

By eliminating video capture and playback from the iPod nano, Apple has made way for low-cost MP3 players to compete with the nano and the iPod shuffle ($49; 2GB, 3.5 stars), which doesn't even have a screen. Sony may offer what these players lack, but it doesn't mean the Walkman E Series (NWZ-E353) is a compelling product. In fact, the Archos 3cam vision and the SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ are not terribly exciting either, but if you are going to go with a budget MP3 player, I'd choose the one with the most features. With a camera for stills and video, the Archos 3cam vision handily wins the feature war, even if the camera is low quality. It's priced at $100, sitting somewhere in between the nano and the Walkman E Series. If none of these options sound like must-haves to you, you're not alone. My advice is to save up for an iPod touch, or invest in a cell phone with music playback features.

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