Sony's new Android Walkman, currently dubbed the Sony Walkman Mobile Entertainment Player, has some cool music features and a huge screen.
Sony had a surprise up its sleeve at the IFA tech-fest in Berlin, showing off a new device in its music-pumping Walkman line. But this noisy little monster is different to Walkman kit that has gone before -- it runs Android, which is Google's app-filled mobile operating system.
It's currently in the prototype stage apparently, so there's no final name. At the time of writing Sony is calling it the Walkman Mobile Entertainment Player, though we'd bet our bottom dollar that it'll be dubbed something fancy like the 'Spruce' or 'Lifesonic' for when it actually goes on sale. Packed with apps and with a massive touchscreen up front, this device will compete with Apple's iPod touch.
We've toyed with the Android Walkman, and both the hardware and software seem complete to us, so we wouldn't be at all surprised to see this hitting the shelves in the next few months, in time for Christmas. Read on for our first impressions, and what you can expect from a Walkman that runs Android.
This new Walkman looks a little like a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc on steroids. It's got the same curving edge along the top and bottom, and if you turn it sideways you can see there's a shallow dent in the back, giving the device an arched appearance.
Along the back there's the splodgy Walkman logo against a deep blue background, and down the right of the player there's a dedicated Walkman button, for quick access to music.
We'd like to see a few playback controls on the device itself -- something that bugs us about using an iPhone or iPod touch to listen to music while on the move is that we need to actually pull the thing out of our pockets to change track, making us 100 per cent more muggable.
That's something Sony could stick on this player to give it an edge -- perhaps that dedicated Walkman button could play/pause the music with one press, skip forward with another and skip back with a triple-tap, like the in-line remote controls you find on headphones built for the iPod.
This Walkman has an absolutely massive touchscreen plastered over the front. It's a 4.3-inch display, which is the same size as the panels on enormous smart phones such as the HTC Desire HD.
We wonder if the screen is perhaps too big -- for years we've seen MP3 players shrink down to be as tiny as possible, so a return to the pocket-filling devices of yesteryear may seem a bit strange. There's no phone functionality on this Android Walkman, so you'll still have to carry a phone around with you. There's no camera on it either, so if you're fond of taking a few snaps while on the move, this won't fill that gap.
That massive screen does mean that the player's usefulness extends far beyond listening to music, though. Videos and movies will look great rendered in massive-o-vision, as will games you download from the Android app store.
Sony already has a tonne of slim, pocketable Walkman MP3 players, so we're perfectly happy to see this 4.3-inch monster join the roster at the top end of the scale, catering to anyone who fancies something more than just music from their device. The only risk is that the huge display could sap battery life.
When we heard that Sony was making an Android-powered Walkman, we rolled our eyes so hard they nearly flew out of our sockets. All too often lately, manufacturers seem content to throw Google's mobile operating system at their products, expecting it to solve all their problems just by being there.
Once we'd had a go with the Android Walkman though, we were feeling much more positive, because Sony appears to have made some effort to tinker with the default Android look, making the player look like it was made for music and video, and not for making phone calls.
Along the bottom of the home screen there are big, glowing blue buttons that -- once tapped -- will call up either the video player, music player or photo viewer. The music app gets pride of place in the centre, and we noticed a music player widget too, so you can skip track or pause playback from the homescreen, without having to open the app itself.
The music app itself is looking good (though we're wondering what's going to fill most of the screen if your music doesn't come with cover art), and Sony was making much of the ability to stream, or 'throw' your music to a Sony Bravia TV wirelessly via a DLNA connection. If you've already got a Sony TV, that could be useful -- when you get back to your house, just fire the tunes over to your telly for big-speakered fun.
The best thing about Android though is access to the Android Market, where you can sift through thousands of apps to download, making your player potentially a lot more than just an MP3 player. Alternatively Sony has its own cloud-based music service called Music Unlimited, that contains over 10 million tracks.
Traditonally Walkman devices offers better sound quality than their Apple rivals, so anyone who's particularly fussy about audio quality should keep an eye on this player, as we suspect it will pump out extremely sweet noises.
We're not sure how many people wouldn't be better off buying a smart phone, but if Sony can make this Android Walkman cheap enough, it could make a great all-round device for strolling around town with, and a tempting alternative to Apple's iPod touch. Stay tuned for more news as it unfolds.
Edited by Nick Hide