Sony's portable audio products may still carry the iconic Walkman name, but frustrations with proprietary music formats, maddening music management software and ho-hum features have relegated many of its MP3 players to the lame basket.
After a few years of samey players, Sony fans began to yell "show us yer innovation!"; by mid-2007 things seemed to be looking up. The Julyled the way, garnering praise for its ripper sound quality and gorgeous screen. Later in the year, in a move that sent dentists broke by quelling teeth-gnashing, Sony ditched its woeful SonicStage software in favour of Windows Media Player and good old-fashioned drag-and-drop.
In the wake of February's impressive, the company has this week introduced two new members of the Walkman family: the NWZ-A720 and the limited-edition, Bluetooth-enabled NWZ-A826KB.
The A720 comes in 4GB (AU$199), 8GB (AU$269) and 16GB (AU$389) models. It's slimmer and more streamlined than the slightly chunky NWZ-A818, and features a 2.4-inch (61-millimetre) TFT display. The screen and button layout is similar to iriver's E100, but the metallic casing — in black, white, pink and gold varieties — gives the Sony player a flashier look.
As for the numbers and letters, the player supports MP3, AAC, WMA and WMA (DRM) audio, as well as the rather more obscure Linear PCM. JPEG images and MPEG-4 videos get a look-in, as does high-quality AVC (H.264/AVC).
The limited-time-only-so-run-like-the-wind NWZ-A826KB only comes in one capacity: a measly 4GB. (Has no-one told Sony that the price of flash memory has plummeted?) Other than stereo Bluetooth streaming, the player is identical to the A720. Its AU$289 price tag includes a pair of DR-BT21G Bluetooth headphones as well as the standard earbuds.
All up the players look promising, but the features are a little on the bland side. With competing manufacturers offering devices sporting expansion slots, higher flash capacities and FM radios at comparable prices, it's hard to get worked into a tizzy over these models.
We'll be testing the new players in the coming weeks, so hang around for the full review.