It may be a bit pricier than the competition, but one of the great things about the S-Series Walkman is that it sounds great right out of the box--meaning you don't have to go through the extra step of tossing out the packaged earbuds and purchasing some decent ones. Still, while the included earphones offer good sound quality, they may not be comfortable for all users, and a proper fit is necessary to enjoy the bass the player is capable of producing.
One of the more attractive features offered by the S-Series is the built-in noise canceling. Sony even includes an accessories cable that allows you to run an airplane's audio system through the player in order to enjoy the built-in noise canceling--quite the thoughtful addition. There's also a dual-prong airplane adapter and a dock adapter for using the player with accessories.
Sony has also introduced a brand-new extra on the S-Series: a smart playlist function called SensMe Channels. Somewhat similar to the Nano's Genius feature, SensMe analyzes the songs in your library to create playlists.
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.
The onscreen interface is worth looking at. The main menu is organized into an attractive three-by-three icon grid, and you can choose from a variety of wallpapers and themes that affect the viewing backdrop as well as the selection-highlight colors.
The Sony S-Series Walkman's design is anything but flashy. The player comes in one color: black. 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 tall by 1.6 inches wide by 0.3 inch deep, it's fractionally shorter and thicker than the Nano.
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).