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MP3 Players

Sony NWZ-A826KB Walkman

The limited-edition, Bluetooth-enabled A826KB looks snazzy, and we're glad SonicStage is gone, but we wish the player was available in higher capacities.

A new batch of Walkmans is hitting the shelves in June, with Sony announcing the slimline NWZ-A720 series and the limited-edition, Bluetooth-enabled NWZ-A826KB.

The 4GB A826KB is identical to the A720 but for its Bluetooth. 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).

Upside
The first positive point is one we've mentioned in previous Walkman reviews, but it bears repeating: the A826KB is mercifully free from Sony's SonicStage music management app. This software, with its illogical interface and propensity to crash, was one of the main reasons that the Walkman range has been given a bad rap in recent years. Sony finally ditched the troublesome app in 2007 with the welcome promise that we'd never have to see it again. Instead, file transfer is via Windows Media Player or good old-fashioned drag-and-drop.

The player comes with two sets of headphones that are a notch above your standard flash-player ear buds: the DR-BT21G Bluetoothers and a pair of decent, bass-friendly EX Monitor earphones. Bought separately, the BT21Gs will cost you AU$199, while the EX ear buds retail for AU$99.

Downside
The A826KB looks decent enough, but we would have liked to have seen a wider range of capacities on offer. Unfortunately, 4GB is on the low side, especially when there's no expansion slot on board. You'd have to be pretty hot for Bluetooth to handle the AU$289 price tag.

Design-wise, the button layout of the A720 looks a lot neater than the cluttered players that preceded it, but the tiny menu nav buttons and selection keys look like they'd be too small for some thumbs.

As for those bass-boosting ear buds, some may baulk at their design — each bud has an extra bubble that weasels its way into your ear canal. Good for sound isolation, but bad if you're not a fan of inserting silicon-rubber compounds deep into your cranial orifices.

Outlook
All up the player looks 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. Still, if the sound quality and battery life is as good as we found in the NWZ-A818, the A826KB will find an appreciative audience.

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