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Sony goes back to its roots: After trying to copy Apple’s touch screen, Sony has gone back to basics with the latest addition to the A-Series Walkman line, the NW-A840 series. The new Walkmans don’t do touch or the Internet. Instead the emphasis is on playing music and videos. They do this with a beautiful, albeit small, 2.8-inch WQVGA OLED screen. Moreover, the included software automatically converts video to the codecs that the NW-A840 models use. You can also hook up the NW-A840 models to a TV and play video straight off them at a standard digital 720 × 480 resolution. On the audio front the new Walkmans come with digital noise canceling, with a choice of settings such as for riding on a train or bus. Actual audio playback quality is a weak point for the various iPods, and Sony goes for the jugular by including top-drawer MDR-EX300SL earphones with the new models. While they are still not proper headphones, they do offer a distinct upgrade on the mediocre ear buds that Apple typically offloads on iPod buyers. The new Walkmans also display JPEG photos, but without slide shows.

The NW-A840 is 7.2 mm thin and a typical candy-bar shape. The other dimensions are a length of 105 mm, a width of 47 mm and weight of just 62 grams. The arrangement of controls below the screen, somewhat resembling Mickey Mouse’s face, takes getting used to.

Battery life is good at 29 hours for audio playback at 128kps and nine hours for playing videos at 384 kbps using the MPEG4 codec. Storage errs on the generous side with a starting point of 16 gigabytes for the NW-A845, 32 gigabytes for the NW-A846 and maxing out with the 64-gigabyte NW-A847.

The NW-A845 will cost ¥23,800 when it comes out Oct. 1, the NW-A846 will cost ¥29,800, and the NW-A847 will set you back ¥39,800. This is some serious money for music/video players that use mobile-phone size screens. However, by specializing they are able to offer the promise of top-notch performance. www.ecat.sony.co.jp

Got to look cute: Never underestimate the need for gadgets that display images to look good themselves. Sanyo’s new digital photo frame, the ALBO HNV-S70, is a standard 7-inch number that looks good enough to enhance the mantelpiece. Its screen sports a resolution of 800 × 480 pixels, a decent viewing angle of 120 degrees and can play back audio, video (VGA 640 × 480 or QVGA 320 × 240) and JPEG files. The 500 megabytes of internal memory can be expanded via its memory-card slot that accepts SD, SDHC and Memory stick cards. It can also read files from USB memory sticks. One feature not included is Wi-Fi connectivity, although users can transfer photos and videos from mobile phones to the ALBO via Infrared. The sound reproduction is also a bit limited as it only has mono speakers. The unit measures 210 mm × 156 mm × 93 mm and tips the scales at 472 grams. It will be available in a choice of white, pink or brown and will sell for ¥14,800 when it goes on sale Oct. 8.

The ALBO isn’t a bad option in the photo frame stakes, unless wireless access is important to you. If not then it is relatively inexpensive for its size and does what it sets out to achieve. jp.sanyo.com/news/2009/

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