The Sony S-Series Walkman is a solid entry-level MP3 player, thanks to its ultra-affordable price tag, easy-to-use design, excellent performance, and fair smattering of features--but those who are looking to upgrade from the previous generation will not be impressed.
The new S-Series Walkman is one of the cheapest flash players on the market: you can pick up an 8GB model for $110 and a 16GB for just $130. This--combined with its excellent sound quality and battery life--is the player's saving grace.
For better or for worse, the second-gen S-Series Walkman is noticeably larger than its predecessor. The nice thing about this is it allows for a larger, more video-friendly screen, and the 2.4-inch QVGA LCD is every bit as crisp, colorful, and bright as before.
The bigger chassis also allows for a pair of integrated external speakers that flank both sides of the display and pass through to ports on the back of the device for more air flow (something that generally equates to better sound quality).
Of course, this means that the new S-Series is not quite as pocket-friendly as the previous iteration, measuring nearly 4 inches long and 2 inches across, though it is only a fraction thicker at 0.4 inch. Also, because of the speaker placement, the player strongly resembles a cell phone, a fact that may or may not deter some people.
Below the screen, Sony has built in its typical circular control pad: a standard four-way directional button surrounding a central play/pause key. This is flanked by two additional buttons--back (home) and option (power)--which are arranged in such a way that one can't help but picture Mickey Mouse. Still, the Disneyesque look doesn't hinder the navigation of the device, which is a breeze.
A grid of icons for the main functions makes up the top menu, while the music submenu is handily divided into artist, album, genre, and so on. Playlists, however, are only accessible through a separate, dedicated section, which is a bit odd though not really a navigational hindrance. Unfortunately, the S-Series still does not offer an on-the-go playlist option.
Although the second-gen S-Series Walkman appears to be constructed out of a material similar to what was used for its predecessor, it has a more plastic-y feel that makes it seem a bit cheaper. However, it offers the same shiny, metallic topcoat--in a choice of red, pink, violet, or black--and the player still retains a somewhat sleek and sexy look.
We also appreciate that Sony held onto the dedicated volume rocker on the left spine. Here, you'll also find two switches: one for locking the controls (hold) and another for toggling between speaker and headphone modes.
The standard headphone jack along with Sony's proprietary USB port live on the bottom edge. when you listen to the S-Series Walkman through a good set of headphones, the sound quality enjoys a dramatic improvement. Music sounds rich, warm, and defined across genres, with sparkly highs and buttery mids. Bass is punchy and encompassing without being overpowering.
It's easy to recommend this player to budget-minded people who are looking for an introduction to the Walkman line. But those who have experienced the previous generation S-Series will be very disappointed by the successor to the line. In this case, newer definitely does not mean better.