As has become typical of Sony players, the A-series offers drag-and-drop file transfers, but it's not quite a simple matter of plugging the device into a computer - you'll need to use Sony's proprietary USB cable. Also specific to the A-series player with which they're bundled are the headphones Sony supplies. Not that they won't work with another player, or that other earphones won't work with the A-series. But the combination of the two adds noise-cancelling to the A-series' capabilities.
This works well enough, with a number of settings available to fine tune how aggressively the cancellation works. However, the extra bulk that this adds to the earpieces is an annoyance, and although the bundled earphones sound okay, they're no match for a decent third party set.
The headphones do, in fact, serve one other purpose, which is to act as an antenna for the built-in radio. There's little to say about this other than it works - unless you're the type to be impressed by a whole 30 slots available for saving pre-set stations. That proved 28 more than we needed (BBC Radios 2 and 4), but your mileage may vary.
What's perhaps most interesting about the latest generation of Sony media player, is the audio quality. Previous Walkman players offered a significant advantage over their equivalent Apple players, but with this latest generation the gap isn't quite as profound - where the iPod improved noticeably over its predecessor this generation, the A-series is about on a par with other Walkmans such as the E443.
Not that we're suggesting this is a problem. The A-series offers audio quality as good you can realistically expect at its price. The overall sound comes across full and warm, with a forceful but balanced output. There's plenty of volume available, no distortion even with the player turned up painfully loud, and although the A-series output is powerful, it's not too much so - the player will do delicate, too. For the money there's really nothing to dislike.
The A-series Walkman is a fine successor to the previous models Sony has released in its class. The built-in noise cancelling ability isn't as much of a show-stopper as Sony might hope, but the A-series is nonetheless a solidly built, well-featured and competitively priced rival to Apple's iPod nano.