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Sony Walkman Bean

Sony today introduced yet another flash-based player to its growing lineup of digital audio players: the Walkman Bean NW-E300 series. Designed with a decidedly feminine touch, the cute lima bean-shaped player boasts a built-in retractable USB port, a single-line OLED display, and a time and date feature. The 512MB NW-E305 comes in Coconut White and Tropical Ice Blue, while the 1GB NW-E307 comes in Black Licorice and, yes, Cotton Candy Pink. All models will be available in September and have retail prices of $129.95 and $179.95 for the 512MB and 1GB versions, respectively.

Upside: You have to admit that the E300 series is compact and adorable, and it will certainly appeal to those into cute tech. Like the E500 series, the E300 series includes an FM tuner and will play back MP3 and Sony's own ATRAC3 formats. This is the first Sony design with an integrated USB 2.0 port, and it features a bright and legible one-line monochrome OLED display. In addition, the unit's built-in rechargeable battery has an impressive rated life of 50 hours and features quick charging, which will conveniently give you 3 hours of battery life after only three minutes of USB-based charging.

Downside: Cute comes at a cost. Though they are "yummy" (according to a Sony spokesperson), the Walkman Bean NW-E300 series are priced higher than many flash-based players with more features such as line-in and voice recording. And while the devices play MP3s natively, make sure you want to commit to Sony's Connect for purchasing tunes. Another observation: You hold this player like a cigarette lighter, with your thumb on the main navigation button. When controlling the player, the user's hand obscures the view of the LCD.

Outlook: Sony has been aggressive in 2005 with the launch of several flash-based players and one very good hard drive-based player that distinguish themselves with stylish design and industry-leading battery life. The E300 series will certainly appeal to an audience--perhaps so far untapped--that values style and the cuteness factor and who don't mind spending a little extra to get it. It's a good thing that the E300 looks like a performer as well, given the hypercompetitiveness of the flash-based market.

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