Editors' note, October 23, 2008: The NWZ-638 version of the Sony S-Series does not include the noise-canceling capability featured in the other models in this series. It offers a lower price point of $149 for the 8GB version, and currently is only available in red. For more information specific to the NWZ-638F, read the completely subjective take
Editors' note, October 14, 2008: The rating for this review has been raised from 8.5 to 8.7 because of the player's excellent performance during battery life testing.
Sony has come a long way since the release of the NW-MS11 Network Walkman. One of the company's first flash-based MP3 players, the NW-MS11 didn't even play MP3s and was crippled by copy-protection woes and painfully slow transcoding, but even back then, Walkmans were a model of sleek design and excellent sound quality. The S-Series Walkman is a prime example of the reason Sony was the original king of portable music devices. The flash player, which comes in 4GB ($149.99) and 8GB ($179.99) models, is sleek, compact, easy to use, and packed with features. Plus, it sounds great and has an impressive battery life--we just wish we could get more than the 8GB of memory.
Design and interface
The Sony S-Series Walkman's design is anything but flashy. The player comes in one color: black. That's not to say the device doesn't have any style, but it's definitely more understated than that of the iPod Nano. The brushed-metal face and backside are joined together by a glossy black border that wraps all the way around the edges of the player, which is compact enough to fit in pretty much any pocket. At 3.4 inches by 1.6 inches by 0.3 inch, it's fractionally shorter and thicker than the Nano. A bright, 2-inch GVCA TFT (with 240x320 resolution) takes up more than half the front, while a circular five-way control pad and two function buttons--back/home and option/off--fill out the remainder. The right edge of the player houses our two favorite controls: a dedicated volume rocker and a hold switch (the latter in particular is useful for Walkmans, which start up quickly with a touch of any button). A proprietary USB port, a noise-cancellation switch, and a semi-standard 3.5mm headphone jack line the bottom of the player.