Sony put its latest Network Walkman players on sale in Japan on Saturday and there was a nice surprise for consumers: lower than expected prices.

The company's A-series models, which include both flash memory and hard-disk drive based devices, are available for between ¥1,200 and ¥5,200 (£6 and £26) cheaper than the price anticipated by Sony at their unveiling in September.

The biggest difference can be seen in the price of the 600-series flash-based players that compete with Apple's iPod nano, which was announced in San Francisco hours before Sony unveiled the A-series players in Tokyo in September. All of the players, available in 2GB, 1GB and 512MB capacities, cost at least ¥5,200 (£26) lower than estimated.

The 2GB NW-A608 is available from major retailers and Sony's own webshop for ¥26,800 (£131) and several online retailers are selling it for around ¥23,800 (£116). Back in September, Sony estimated it would cost ¥32,000 (£156) when launched. In comparison, a 2GB iPod nano costs ¥21,800 (£107) from Apple and around ¥20,000 (£98) from online retailers.

"Sony needs to raise its market share of MP3 players, so it had to cut its prices in the market," said Hiroyuki Shimizu, an analyst at Gartner in Tokyo.

Sony, like many Japanese electronics companies, doesn't announce an official retail price preferring to name an estimated street price. In this case, the company said the difference is a result of its estimation being off the mark. However, such estimations are usually much closer to the retail price.

"The prices of competitors are much lower than Sony's prices," Shimizu said.

The lower prices make Sony's A-series more competitive with devices from other vendors. For example, the top-of-the-line 20GB NW-A3000 costs ¥32,800 (£160) from Sony's webshop against the company's original estimate of ¥35,000 (£171). That makes it roughly the same price as Toshiba's X20 Gigabeat player that was launched last week. Creative charges ¥29,800 (£145) for a 20GB Zen player and Apple's 30GB video-compatible iPod costs ¥34,800 (£170) in Japan.

Sony is highlighting the long battery life of the A-series models in its promotions of the devices. The company claims a 50-hour battery life for the flash-based players under optimal conditions and had a group of three dancers stage a 50-hour dance performance in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district from Thursday until Saturday morning when the players went on sale.