Dammit, Sony! The X-series Walkman could have been sitting on our list of must-have products, perhaps our most highly-recommended MP3 player. But it won't be. Let us explain why.
An abandoned London Underground platform below Charing Cross is not the most obvious place to go searching for Sony's products. But the new X-series Walkman -- Sony's first touchscreen MP3 player -- was launched in just such an abandoned subterranean dungeon.
Available from this week, it badly wants to rip the iPod touch a new one. But it's going to need a coating of Lady Luck's most concentrated personal juices to do that. Failing that, a massive price drop would help.
But let's look at its killer aspects first. The 76mm (3-inch) OLED screen -- a calibre of screen we first saw on the Cowon S9 -- produces a quality of image so satisfying, it may actually generate some rudimentary arousal. And on top of this, Sony has built a superb, easy to use interface.
The capacitive screen is responsive, and the animations and transitions are smooth. You can flick through photo galleries with a swipe of the finger, and 'throw' lists of albums and songs up or down, a la iPhone. Plus you can control whatever is playing with either on-screen controls or physical buttons around the edge of the system.
It's also got built-in noise-cancellation, although it only works when used with Sony's bundled earphones. We gave it a try at the event, and it worked at least as well as Audio Technica's dedicated noise-cancellers, which is to say they're decent. But swap Sony's bundled earphones for any other standard headphone and you lose the noise-cancelling feature.
Incidentally, sound quality and audio performance is not something we were prepared to test on an Underground platform with any bundled earphones. This critical factor is something we'll be testing in our labs soon, with our reference equipment.
Other selling points include support for MP3, AAC and WMA audio files, plus H.264, MPEG-4 and WMV video files. It also supports DRM-free iTunes Plus downloads. There's Wi-Fi for browsing the Internet and watching YouTube videos, an integrated podcast menu, and an FM radio (we'll test these in-house, as there's no Wi-Fi on the Tube).
So why aren't we all that impressed?
Sony's RRP on the 16GB model is £209, and £279 for the 32GB model. Both of these prices are within a fiver of an iPod touch with the same capacity. And frankly, we think the iPod touch represents significantly better value for money.
The iPod gives you a larger screen (although admittedly not as rich in colour as Sony's), as well as built-in email, Google Maps, Microsoft Exchange support for push email, contacts and calendars, an integrated music store, plus streaming of BBC iPlayer content directly over Wi-Fi. And of course the App Store: thousands of free and paid apps such as National Rail journey planning, Twitter management, instant messaging, Facebook, The Sims and Spore.
There's no question Sony's new Walkman is a beautiful MP3 player with some great features, but at this price and with this level of competition, it just hasn't blown us away. Walkman fans will adore it, but if value and features are more important to you, the iPod touch, Cowon S9 or even a CNET UK Editors' Choice award-winning current-gen Walkman offer a lot more. Click on for more photos and watch our video below.