Hey, i'm going to get one hell of a slating for this from iPod lovers (the world basically)...
(I'll get to the point in the end i promise, i've used both the players in question and their software so i can give a good point. I just want to rant first):
I think iPods are s**t. I've been looking at HDD players since the summer and got mine this Christmas. When looking i considered two things; style (because we all care what we look like really) and functionality...which is which is more important 'really'.
I think iPods suck because they, i admit, looked cool...emphasis on "looked" because they now so common than they're neither cool, or not. I find it phenominal how iPods are now items which literally everyone has and therefore they're not even noticed anymore. When i go back to 6th form after the holidays, everyone'll have got the new video iPod for Christmas, and...ironically, despite buying the 'coolest' toy around, no-one'll bat an eyelid cos everyone'll have one anyway!
...What i find even more impressive about the iPod is how no-one seems to have noticed the fact that it's really not that good technically. There's a lot of players out there which'll do the same, with better audio quality, and...the major point; for a longer period of time as the the iPods battery is nothing but a joke. My mates all come to 6th form and moan about how their iPods have run out of battery by the end of the day and i want to slap them and ask them why they keep buying bloody ipods, every time they break, because...As you've shown; they do. I swear everyone who has an iPod eventually has a problem with it!
Besides the point of video playback, which you've said doesn't matter...I just feel that when analysed sufficiently, there is nothing good about the iPod. It makes me feel physically ill how that little cuboid has managed to take over the world...cos they're everywhere.
...I actually have nightmares about iPods.
Right, now i've got all of that out...Sorry, i don't quite know how many people i've offended)...I'll move on to the 'point'.
Right, i used an NW-A3000 which i borrowed of a friend for a couple of days a month or so ago when i was choosing my HDD player.
It's a really neat player. It's built nicely; solid as a rock and looks the bees knees in a kind of retro-but-modern sort of look; it's like a blob which i think is cool. I can't remember the exact battery life but i used it pretty intensely for a couple of days and it was still on full power. That's the main thing i love about Sony players; the battery life in them is awesome and the CD players, MD players, etc etc i've used all work longer than even specified.
My only issue with the NW-A3000 is it's screen, which is good, don't get me wrong. But it's not colour and high resolution and all that. It's a basic black and white screen which is crisp and tells you what you need to know. So, it just depends on if you like a colour screen. What is quite cool about it though is that you can't see the edges of it because it blends in with the coloured shell on the player, so, it kind of looks like the text etc is floating there...I like that. The navigation is simple and easy to use, no fancy scroll wheel. It, once again, just depends on if you want features like that or not.
Finally is software which, i honestly think is good and comparable with iTunes which is a very nice program. I believe the player works with SonicStage? I've not used or heard of "Connect Software". If you go to the Sony Connect Store site, the only software there SonicStage, which is what Sony've always used for all their players. Anyway, you'll have to check that out.
Right...Sonicstage. Everyone says it's bollocks and, it was. I've used it since my netMD (Sonicstage v1.5) and it really was appauling. It was slow, faultly, and just really nasty. However, 2.0 was a little better, and now Sony have released 3.0 which i honestly think is great. It's actually 3.3; the latest version and i use it for the HDD player i got. You can download it to take a look at http://www.connect-europe.com/
if you want to see what the software's like...I really really like it now and have no complaints, despite hating the origional versions of the software.
The main thing i've come to love about Sony's new players is the file formats. Atrac3, Atrac3plus, and the new Atrac3-lossless; the formats sony develops for it's players, seriously rip it out of MP3's. Sonicstage gives a collosal amount of formats and bitrates to suit everything, and the compression is great. I use Atrac3plus at a bitrate of 192kbps and it sounds crisp with great bass, no issues with the highs and lows either. It all depends on balancing size with quality, obviously the lossless format is ridiculous for a player as it uses so much space, but an average 4min track using Atrac3plus at a bitrate of 192kbps sounds brilliant and compresses to under 2mb a track, you've got to give the formats a go to realise how great they are.
Anyway, that's about it i believe. I'd seriously suggest that, or any of Sony's new players as they're awesome and lightyears ahead of the ipod in the audio department, especially with their formats which is important as you said size for music was an issue.
...Finally wanted to say that the player i actually chose in the end, which took me a hell of a lot to get one, was this:
It's a Vaio Pocket VGF-AP1L. If you can get one i'd recommend it as i reckon it's the best player ever made...20hr+ battery life and all. Makes the iPod look a joke.
Hope all of that helped Techy Geek, actually quite enjoyed writing all that!
Appologies to anyone with iPods too btw, i just don't like them! (bet you'd guessed that).