The Walkman’s screen is hidden under a layer of tinted, translucent plastic so that when it’s off you can’t see it at all. And when it’s on, the bright white organic LED lettering glints through as if it’s part of the player’s surface. On closer inspection you can just about make out the edges of a boring square screen, but envious friends and colleagues viewing from a distance will be none the wiser.
Its bar of soap shaped body fits snugly in your palm but, try as it might, Sony still can’t match the iPod’s click wheel for speed and ease of use. The Option and Back buttons are placed so that you have contort your thumb to reach them and all of the controls are a little on the small side too. Sony has compensated by adding several useful navigation and search aids to the player. Songs, albums and artists can be located by initial letter, which saves an awful lot of clicking. While listening to tracks you can press the Link button on the shoulder of the device to locate other artists in the same genre. You can access tracks by their ‘Play history’ – just pick a date and you can relive your music choices for that day. And there’s the option to browse the most recently transferred tracks too.
Sony has also included what it calls Intelligent Shuffle. This is, in effect, random play with knobs on. You can choose to shuffle by year of release (the Time Machine Shuffle) and by your most-played 100 tracks (the My Favorite Shuffle), as well as the standard Shuffle All option.
Of course Sony’s main strength has long been sound quality an in this respect the new Walkman doesn’t disappoint. This Walkman is comfortably the best portable MP3-player I’ve clapped ears on. Bass is weighty without being overbearing or boomy, mids are clear as spring water and highs are pin-prick sharp. Antony and the Johnsons’ atmospheric piano and vocals driven music was rendered with poise and real depth. Meanwhile, brash pop worked just as well and a blast of Hard-Fi really had me tapping my feet.