When it comes to portable audio, Apple may have stolen Sony's thunder a long time ago, but that hasn't stopped the Japanese firm from slowly clawing back a lot of lost ground over the last few years. Its latest B series range of MP3 Walkmans includes the small but versatile NWZ-B142F. It may only have 2GB of storage space but, at around £30 online, it's much cheaper than anand has a few useful tricks up its sleeve too.
Where portable music players are concerned, small is usually good. The trouble is that the smaller you go, the less likely you are to get any kind of display. And without a screen its hard to select the songs you want to listen to. So, instead of going the random play route, like the iPod Shuffle, Sony has made the decision to make its NWZ-B142F Walkman as small as possible whilst retaining a screen. We're not talking about something you can comfortably watch videos on, or even display album art, but the Walkman’s 3-line monochrome screen is just enough to allow you to browse your music library, select songs or playlists and tweak a few preferences without impacting too much on the overall size of the unit, which isn't much bigger than a standard USB memory key.
In addition, the device finds room for a few interesting features, some of which are notably absent from rival products. There’s an FM radio, for a start. It's not the most thrilling or innovative selling point in the world, but it offers the possibility of some much-needed listening variety, given that there's only space for 2GB-worth of your own tunes. Not only that, but a handy record function also lets you record both your own voice and radio broadcasts directly to memory.
The NWZ-B142F works with Windows Media Player, so you don’t need to download or install anything new to sync and transfer albums and playlists. Plug it straight into a USB port to both sync and charge. A full charge doesn't take too long -- just over an hour, in fact -- and will lasts for a claimed 18 hours of playback. Testing the player, we only needed a single charge for several days-worth of normal day-to-day usage. If you do ever happen to find yourself low on juice, however, a useful 'quick charge' feature can give you up to three hours worth of playback time from just three minutes of charging.
Most importantly of all, the Walkman sounds great. Audio quality is about as good as it gets for MP3 players, although a built-in customisable equalizer and quick bass button are on offer to help you get your music sounding just right. The supplied earbuds are a bit basic, but aren't half as bad as some of the bundled headsets we’ve encountered elsewhere.