Sony – NW-A806 review

from the impressive A800 range of multimedia players
Photo of Sony – NW-A806
£110 (2GB), £149 (4GB), £199 (8GB)

Where other companies have attempted to usurp Apple’s dominance of the MP3 player market by offering alternative features such as video playback, higher capacities and cheaper prices, Sony is the closest yet to taking it on at its own game.

Traditionally Sony’s players are solidly built, stylish and make no compromises over audio, both in terms of quality and control. The new A800 range is Nano-esque in shape and design, and retains the same control system as the popular A1000 series. A directional pad, menu buttons and side-mounted volume control make it as easy to operate as they come, which is a good thing considering the wealth of options available to control your media.

The A800 series is a full-blown multimedia player, with support for video and photo content as well as your music. We already know Sony is at the top of the pile when it comes to audio quality so it’ll be interesting to see how it handles the rest.

Just to reassure those new to Sony’s game, sound quality in its players is typically top-notch, and it’s nice to see that the A806 we have on test doesn’t shirk its responsibilities. Audio is superbly crisp and clean at default settings, but the combination of some excellent in-ear bud ‘phones and wide range of adjustments available takes things to another level.

In addition to a customisable equalizer and environment presets there’s a number of extra modes and sound enhancers that together offer an unrivalled potential for near-perfect listening. You can set up bookmarks and playlists, rate your tunes and include album art in search and display menus to add an extra visual element to proceedings. There’s not a lot else to say here other than that Sony has once again proved that, in terms of raw audio performance on these portable players, it truly is the leader in the current market.

As mentioned though, we’re keen to see how Sony handles video and photo playback, and it’s here that you get to enjoy the quite fantastic, full colour, 2-inch display. The high resolution combines with excellent contrast and colour reproduction to form what is probably the best colour screen we’ve seen yet on a portable media player. Brightness can be adjusted for different environments and you can view both photos and video in either landscape or portrait mode.

Up to this point it seems that Sony can do no wrong, at least as far as performance is concerned, but there are a few more stones to upturn before we get over-excited with our conclusion.

Unfortunately you won’t find support for drag and drop here: all content that is transferred to the player must be done through the SonicStage software supplied. This has the advantage of allowing a massive 30 hours of playback for audio as well as tidying up your ID3 tags and optimising file sizes to make the most of the capacity, but some might find it frustrating to require this to be installed in order to update their player.

You could also argue that the asking price is a little high, varying from around £110 for the 2GB player up to £200 for 8GB. This is more expensive than most rivals, although we expect prices to fall a few months after release.

Company: Sony

Contact: 08705 111999

Sony really has done something pretty impressive with the new A800 series, the highlights being the superb audio quality and excellent colour display. You really can't ask for more control over your media or for a better environment to do it justice. There's very little to criticise about this player, aside from the lack of an FM radio, and if you're after one of the most exciting and immersive mobile media experiences around, look no further than the A800 range.