The design also makes sense for other active pursuits. A spot of gardening? No problem. Tree-felling? Likewise. DIY Kitchen-fitting? Ideal (and with the added bonus that you can’t hear anyone moaning that you’re not putting that screw in straight it’s going to rip through the bottom of the cupboard if you don’t watch out). If you spend any time with an MP3 player involved in similar activities, you’ll know how annoying it is to constantly trip over the headphone cable or knock the headphones out of place with an ill-timed movement. With the NWZ-W202, this simply never happens.
Now, there are two compromises you might expect with this kind of player, but Sony has cleverly thought about both of them. The first is usability. Understandably, the NWZ-W202 doesn’t have a screen, and the only controls are a volume rocker, a shuffle switch and a multi-purpose jog dial that handles pause/play and search functions. In practice, it’s clear that the player is designed primarily to work in shuffle mode, and that even then there are times when you want to skip tracks.
Apple gets around this problem with the new Shuffle by adding the speech facility, the unit announcing tracks as you skip through, but the NWZ-W202 takes a different approach with a feature called ‘Zappin’. Hold in the jog dial and flick it forwards and the headphones proclaim ‘Zappin in’ in a preposterous American accent before running through tracks, playing a few seconds of each so you can work out what it is.
Theoretically, this segment is supposed to be the chorus, but in my experience it could be roughly any loud and interesting portion. Hear something you like and press the jog dial in again and the headphones announce ‘Zappin out’ and the track plays. It’s slightly bizarre, and the voice is really, really, really weird, but it works. Sure, you can’t navigate properly through albums or artist lists or playlists, but then on a player of this type, I don’t really expect to.
The second compromise is that you can’t change the headphones, and so this makes the audio quality of the existing set quite crucial. Luckily, the NWZ-W202 actually performs very well. The secret is that Sony has incorporated the 13.5mm drivers from its mid-range EX series of headphones, and while you still won’t find the Walkman as good to listen to as, say, a Sansa Clip with a pair of Shure SE102s, you still get enough bass response, clarity and definition to make music enjoyable on the move.