Features come and go in the rapidly evolving MP3 player space. One that has enjoyed fluctuating popularity is the built-in USB interface, which allows a device to connect directly to a computer without a cable. This "plug-and-play" capability is currently out of fashion, but Sony is trying to keep the dream alive with the B-Series Walkman. The entry-level offering is aimed at active users and is priced competitively at $44.99 for the 1GB model and $59.99 for the 2GB. Battery life isn't as impressive as other Sony Walkmans and the screen is tiny, but the B-Series hits the mark with an array of features suitable for on-the-go use.
The Sony B-Series Walkman is slightly larger than your average thumbdrive, measuring 3.5 inches long by 0.8 inch wide by 0.5 inch thick, which makes it ultraportable and suitable for just about any pocket. It comes in a variety of colors--black, pink, red (2GB only), and blue (1GB only)--which align rather well with the typical gym clothing palette. The USB interface is concealed beneath a removable cap at one end of the device, while a standard 3.5mm headphone jack is bored into the other. The main playback controls sit on the face and consist of a play/pause button, track forward and reverse keys, and a back button. Sony includes a variety of dedicated controls on the top edge of the player, including a record key, a volume toggle, and a bass boost button. The necessary hold switch is housed alone on the bottom spine.
The B-Series Walkman's tiny, monochrome display measures 0.75 inch diagonally on the front of the device. It seems to us that Sony could have made this noticeably larger had it chosen to move its own brand stamp elsewhere. Still, the Walkman does a decent job with the little screen real estate it has. The main menu features four icons indicating the player's minimal features: Voice, Music Library, FM, and Settings. The forward and reverse buttons serve to navigate among menu options, while the play/pause key moves you deeper into menus, and the back button backs you out. For voice recording, you can choose among three settings: low, medium, or high. Within the music menu, you may navigate by folder or by ID3 tags (artist, album, playlist, and so on). The B-Series supports MP3 and WMA, including subscription content from the likes of Rhapsody and Napster. The FM tuner includes an autoscan function and up to 30 preset slots--both the scanner and the tuner worked very well during testing.
Music sound quality also proved good during testing. The B-Series Walkman delivers clear, even audio across genres, though we felt the bass boost function needed to be engaged to get the low-end we crave. Without it, bass is definitely deficient; still, the option to have it either way lets the player appeal to a wider array of listening tastes. Mids come across nice and warm, though not exactly buttery, and high-end detail is reasonably crisp if not sparkling. Sony includes a handful of preset audio settings as well as a five-band custom EQ, which lets you tweak the sound to your liking. You cannot access these with the bass boost function engaged, however--it's one or the other. The rated battery life of 14 hours failed to impress us; we expect better from Sony. However, CNET Labs tests may surprise us, so check back for those results. One thing's for certain: we really appreciate the rebirth of the quick charge function, which gives 90 minutes of juice off of a 3-minute charge.