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Sony Walkman Z review: Does audio quality still matter?

CNET's Donald Bell wraps up his review of the Sony Walkman Z, a portable media player with an emphasis on audio quality.

Photo of Sony Walkman Z
Sony's Android-based Walkman Z portable media player Josh Miller

One of the quickest ways to make me nostalgic is to talk about the pre-iPhone days--the days when MP3 players still mattered.

While today's biggest forum battles all seem to revolve around Android versus iOS, there was a time when the mere mention of iPod earbuds would send us all into frothy fits of anger. Everyone, it seemed, cared deeply about the audio quality of a preferred MP3 player and would evangelize the merits of the latest iPod-killers from Sony, Cowon, Creative, and SanDisk.

Those were fun days. As a self-described audio geek, I took comfort in the thought that so many people cared so passionately about their music experience.

But then, like two alien mother ships dropping from the sky, the arrival of the iPhone and the iPad dwarfed these audio quarrels and offered dissenting and opinionated geeks a far more worthy subject to rally around. Amid this frenzy of iClouds, Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Kindle Fires, concerns over music playback and audio quality often feel as antiquated as discussions of the VCR.

But for those music lovers who have felt lost in this era of OS-fixation, Sony's Walkman Z ($249) is an Android-based portable media player that elevates the audio experience above all other concerns.

I spent the better part of last week using the Walkman Z and I can say without a doubt that it sounds fantastic. Sony's suite of audio enhancement settings, along with the included pair of high-quality in-ear headphones, provide musical bliss right out of the box.

Unfortunately, the audio experience is about the only feature that Sony hits out of the park. Even the basic stuff I've come to expect from iPod Touch competitors--such as memory expansion, broad audio and video format support, cameras, and USB charging--is all absent.

For Android fanatics, all I really have to say is: Gingerbread. Sony may provide an Ice Cream Sandwich update in the not-too-distant future, but right now, you're stuck buying a 2011 OS on a 2012 device.

Still, there's a lot to love about the Walkman Z, and I feel that Sony executed the idea of an Android PMP better than Samsung did with the Galaxy Player 4 and 5 (I'm still reading through the hate mail on those reviews).

To learn more, read my full review of the Sony Walkman Z over on CNET.