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There's little question that Sony's Walkman range is getting things right at the mid-range and top-end of the MP3 player market. We made the flagship NWZ-639F our MP3/PMP player of the year for some extremely good reasons, and we'd recommend the cheaper NWZ-436F to anyone looking for a cheaper alternative to the iPod Nano. However, things are very tough at the bottom end of the market. With players like the SanDisk Clip, the Samsung YP-U4 and the Creative Zen Stone around for less than £30 you need to score heavily on style, usability, value and sound quality to compete. I had high hopes that Sony's B series Walkman's might continue the high standards set by its E-Series and S-Series siblings into the bargain basement. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite make the grade.
Why not? Let's start with the design. Like the old NWD-B105 the NWZ-B133 I have here is styled like a USB key, but to my mind the look is much less attractive. While an attempt has been made, with the gloss plastics on the front and textured finish on the back, to tie it in with Sony's more expensive lines, the thick silver bezel around the edge makes it look a little like the sort of cheap player you'll find for under £20 in a supermarket. Sure the unit feels rugged and lightweight, but put it next to the lovely Samsung YP-U4 Litmus and there's really no comparison. The Sony product just doesn't have the same class.
On the plus side, the B133 is a perfectly usable little player. With only two functions - music playback and a voice recorder - it can get by without complex controls, so you can navigate lists and menus on the small three-line TFT screen using nothing more than an up/skip forward button, a down/skip back button, the play/pause key and a small, recessed back button. On top of this, you'll find a volume rocker, a record button and a bass boost button on the top edge, with a hold slider on the bottom.
It helps that the interface is very simple. You can browse for files by folder or by ID tag, access general settings, change play modes and flick between five preset and one custom EQs, and really that's all there is to it. There's no internal playlist editing, the display doesn't give you a lot of text to work with and scrolling is a little slow for my tastes, but if all you want is a spot of music while you're on your way to work or going for a jog, the B133 does it in a no frills, no fuss fashion.