Accompanied by the release of every new MP3 player are the endless comparisons with the market-leading Apple iPod. Since the original iPod was released, we've had numerous claims of other MP3 players being "iPod killers", but really, not a single player has been able to knock the popular Apple number off its perch. That may be about to change with Sony's launch of the new hard drive based Walkman.
- Looks fantastic, Unique features such as Top 100 Favourites and Time Machine, Screen is bright and clear, Easy to use controls
- Heavy for its size, Screen impossible to see in sunlight, Impossible to keep free of fingerprints and smudges, Volume isn't loud enough, Poor software
Besides issues with the software, the Sony Walkman is a fine entry into the populated MP3 market and comes highly recommended as an alternative to the iPod.
Price$ 379.00 (AUD)
To say we were impressed when the 6GB Walkman landed in our offices would be an understatement. Available in four colours, the silver, chrome-like mirrored unit that we received looks absolutely fantastic. The entire front of the player is essentially a bright, reflective surface, with not even the controls escaping the design influence. The rear of the Walkman is the only part of the unit which doesn't use the mirrored surface; instead it's finished in a matt, silver titanium type number. It looks great and creates a nice contrast with the rest of the Walkman. Overall, the Walkmans design is definitely a head turner.
The Walkmans controls are very functional and hassle-free to use. The front of the player contains a 4-way navigational pad with a central Play/Pause button, an option key and a back key. That's it. This keeps the design relatively uncluttered and users will really appreciate the simple nature of the controls. There's a volume control slider on the right, a hold key at the top and the Link button on the left. We were puzzled by the hold key being a button rather than the usual slider, and you simply press the hold key for about two seconds to lock and unlock the unit. At first we thought this may mean that the button could be easily bumped when the Walkman is in your pocket or bag, but we didn't experience this at all.
The bright OLED screen looks impressive on first glance and blends excellent into the rest of the unit. It's not colour, but the Walkman isn't a photo or picture viewer so really, a colour screen would have been fairly useless on this device. Where the display falters is in any sort of sunlight - it becomes practically invisible and we really struggled to change tracks or alter any settings while we were outside. For those who value function over form, this may be a deciding factor in your purchase.
The interface of the Walkman is fairly intuitive and easy to grasp. The Main Menu is a 3 x 3 row of icons, which you scroll through using the navigational pad. We liked the fact that while you're in the main menu, the bottom of the screen displays the current track that is playing, as well as the battery life icon. There are plenty of customisable options available through the menu system including adjusting the display brightness, Play Mode, AVLS (Volume Limiting System) and equalisation settings. We were impressed with the included six-band equaliser on the Walkman, in addition to the preset equalisation settings. This is something that is lacking on the iPod and seems to be making more of an appearance as new players are released.
There were a few features on the Walkman that really caught our eye. The first was the "Favourite 100" option, which when selected, creates a play list of the 100 most played songs on the Walkman. "Time Machine Shuffle" was another interesting option. Basically, the player randomly picks a year and then proceeds to play all the songs from that year on your Walkman. When you first select the time machine, the Walkman displays a shuffle scene filled with numbers and then proceeds to decode the random year it is going to select. It looks like something out of The Matrix, rather than an MP3 player, but this unique function worked well. The Search function also proved quite useful, whereby you can search music on the player by selecting letters from a keyboard which appears on the screen.
The Link button was the other interesting function of the Walkman. Pressing this button searches for tracks by artists that belong to a similar genre to the artist of the currently playing track. Three options will appear after pressing the link button "All Related Songs", any artists which are similar and "Increase Search Range". The Walkman then plays a section of particular tracks which are in this range. For example, we were listening to 3 Doors Down, pressed the Link button and No Doubt appeared as one of the similar artists. The Walkman then played a selection (about 6 seconds) of the No Doubt songs on the Walkman as a preview. From here, you can either select the displayed artist, or increase your search range. The function isn't perfect, as users must have the ID3 tags fully updated and correct to utilise it best, but it is a unique option and one that will surely be developed with further releases.
Sound quality on the Walkman was definitely above average, but it wasn't overly outstanding. In particular we were annoyed with the volume on the unit, which wasn't loud enough on its highest setting. This is turn renders Sony's AVLS (Volume Limiting System) quite useless as you can barely hear anything when it's switched on. The Walkman pumped out a fair amount of bass and most tracks sounded clean and crisp. Mid range was good, and treble levels were notable. It is really worth adjusting the excellent custom equaliser for the best quality sound, depending on the music you're listening to. The supplied headphones were attractive, with their chrome ear buds matching the player, but the quality, as usual with boxed headphones, was poor. As we've mentioned in other reviews, it is necessary to purchase a set of quality headphones or earphones if you're really after quality sound. The headphones include a one metre extension cable. Overall though, the sound quality of the Walkman is one of its strong points, if you take away the volume issue.
Once again, Sony have stuck with their proprietary ATRAC3 file system, which means you need the supplied connect software to convert music files before uploading them onto the Walkman (although it does play standard MP3 files). This wouldn't be such a frustrating process if the software wasn't as slow and non-user friendly as Connect 1.0. We had issues right from the beginning, where the player wasn't recognized by the software, it crashed twice and it took us three attempts to transfer a few of our own tracks onto the player. Sony desperately needs to release an update which fixes these problems as soon as possible.
Battery life on the Walkman is rated by Sony at 20 hours, with standard ATRAC3 playback. This is above average and certainly more impressive than the iPod battery life, which is one of the leader's poorer points. We were annoyed when we learnt how we had to charge the unit - you need the AC power cable, the Power adapter as well as the USB cable, which plugs into the adapter. A non-proprietary USB cable for file transfer would have also been appreciated.
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