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Sony NWZ-S639F Walkman review: Sony NWZ-S639F Walkman

Sony's NWZ-S639F Walkman S series is an affordable model that delivers. It supports BBC iPlayer downloads, so you can take full advantage of its crisp -- albeit small -- screen. Its stylish design and incredibly easy-to-use navigation system is coupled with superb Sony sound quality, making this MP3 player music to our ears

Nate Lanxon

Special to CNET News

See full bio
3 min read

Sony's NWZ-S639F is the 16GB model of the Walkman S series, sitting alongside the 8GB NWZ-S638F. The S series is a more affordable Walkman than the flagship A range.

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Sony NWZ-S639F Walkman

The Good

Sound quality; smart design; good price; SensMe feature; BBC iPlayer support; crisp screen; drag-and-drop file management; podcast integration; great battery life.

The Bad

No stereo Bluetooth; no gapless playback; DivX or Xvid support would've been superb.

The Bottom Line

Its older, larger, more expensive A-series brethren offers wireless audio and a whopping screen, but for ease-of-use, sound quality and sheer enjoyment to use, the S639F is a terrific choice. BBC iPlayer support is an awesome bonus for UK users

The S639F costs £129 and is on sale now.

Design
When it wants to, Sony can design products so beautiful you'll want to marry them. The S639 is a product evidently designed by the very artisans we wish Sony would deploy to its phone division, with slick looks and a metallic finish.

Button layout is intuitive and easy to use, even with larger fingers. There's a physical lock switch on one side, rocker controls for volume adjustment and a bottom-mounted 3.5mm headphone socket. Our only gripe over the design: a proprietary USB cable.

A super-sharp 51mm (2-inch) 240x320-pixel display adds the finishing touches to this player, bringing out superb life and colour from menus and photographs and making videos look exciting and vibrant.

Features
But first, critical specifications. The S639F supports MP3, WMA (protected and unprotected), AAC (unprotected only) and WAV. We're sad not to see FLAC or OGG support here, particularly after just reviewing Samsung's FLAC- and OGG-loving YP-Q1. High-quality H.264 and MPEG-4 SP video is supported, however, as well as JPEG photos.

The player has full support for podcasts with a dedicated button in the main menu, and Sony's bundled desktop software does a good job of automatically downloading new shows and syncing them. It's just a shame the rest of the software is rather unintuitive, but you can alternatively use Windows Media Player for file management. Or you can simply drag and drop files via Windows Explorer or Finder in Mac OS X.

Loosely comparable to the new Genius feature on the iPods, the Walkman has a dynamic playlist function called SensMe. It analyses the musical content of each of your songs and puts them in playlists such as 'Energetic', 'Relax' and 'Extreme'. It surprised us with how well it works, and it's a killer feature. We forgive it for putting a Metallica song in 'Classical' only because it really was a one-off.

But one of the must-have features for UK users is the support for BBC iPlayer downloads. It's one of the few players on the market that supports the BBC's programmes, and it means the entire iPlayer library is freely downloadable to the Walkman for watching on the go.

As for smaller features, you've got an FM radio with a bunch of presets, real-time searching of your entire library by letter or keyword, and support for album artwork, but unfortunately no gapless playback or stereo Bluetooth (a feature of the A series).

Performance
In many ways the S639F is like its more cash-demanding A series cousins, and when it comes to usability that's no bad thing. It's one of the simplest players in the world, with a clear icon-driven interface and intuitive menu layouts -- if you think the back of your hand's easy to navigate, you're in for a treat.

You're in for an even greater treat if you like video. Yes, the screen is diminutive, so movies are out of the question (unless having eyestrain is your hobby). But it's a crisp screen, and BBC iPlayer downloads are particularly enjoyable. That said, they're equally -- if not more -- enjoyable on the larger-screened Samsung YP-Q1.

But the real killer 'app' in the S639F is sound quality, which is superb. The audio performance of Sony players has always been exemplary, and the S639F is no exception. It's also one of the most prominant ways the S639F differentiates itself from the more affordable, yet shockingly similar, Q1. Gorgeous, powerful sound, rich bass and distortion-free clarity: for a player of this size, we're sold.

Conclusion
It's older, larger, more expensive A series brethren offer wireless audio and a whopping screen, but for ease of use, sound quality and sheer enjoyment, the S639F is a terrific choice, and BBC iPlayer support is awesome for UK users.

Is it an iPod nano killer? For this price, capacity and sound quality, it could be. The nano is still our favourite, but we wouldn't argue with you for choosing this over Apple's alternative, particularly if you enjoy BBC content and the fact that the 16GB nano is a full £20 more costly.

Edited by Cristina Psomadakis

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