Skinny is the new phat, according to Sony. The company's just unveiled its thinnest Walkman to date -- the uber-anorexic NWZ-A846. The device comes with 32GB of on-board storage, a 2.8-inch OLED display and built-in noise cancellation. It's available from Advanced MP3 Players for around £220.
The NWZ-A468 is an attractive little device. Its design isn't exactly progressive -- it's predominantly black with silver accents on the control panel -- but all the elements of its design hang together very well.
Its super-skinny body measures 47 by 105 by 7mm. That means it disappears easily into a pocket, which is a shame, as you'll want to show it off everywhere you go. It's also extremely light, tipping the scales at a mere 62g, which makes it ideal for exercising with.
Display of affection
Switch on the NWZ-A468 and it looks even sexier, thanks to a bright and beautiful, 2.8-inch OLED display. It's bright enough to use outdoors in direct sunlight, and menu icons, graphics and album artwork look sensational, due to the 10,000:1 contrast ratio.
It's not all good news, though. The player allows you to view still images, but only in the JPEG format. Also, zooming is impossible on the tiny screen and there's no built-in camera, so it's hardly worth bothering with this feature.
Video killed the radio star
It's possible to watch video on the NWZ-A468. While the video quality is very good, we found the screen's small size meant we never wanted to watch video for longer than a few minutes.
The player only supports the AVC/H.264, MPEG-4, WMV and AAC-LC video formats, which aren't especially common -- at least not in our collection. If you want to watch the more common DivX and Xvid formats, you'll have to convert them to a format that the NWZ-A846 understands.
Menu du jour
The NWZ-A468 lacks a touchscreen, but it's still very easy to use. The four-way rocker switch in the centre moves an on-screen cursor, highlighting large, easily comprehensible icons that can be selected by pushing the play-pause button at the centre of the rocker. The back button takes you back a step in the menu structure, and the option button brings up contextual sub-menus.
Finding music is easy. The NWZ-A468 lets you browse by the usual criteria -- artist, album, genre and so on -- but, for those who prefer a flashier method, there's also a Cover Flow-style selection menu that lets you browse albums by cycling through album artwork.
As attractive as this is, we found ourselves browsing the bog-standard list most frequently. It looks pretty basic, but it does the job and lists music in a more logical arrangement than some rival players. For example, it doesn't list all albums starting with the word 'The' in the 'T' section of the alphabetised list. Instead, it lists them according to the first letter of the second word, which can make locating them that much faster.
Use me, abuse me...
The NWZ-A468 supports most of the major audio formats, including MP3, DRM and non-DRM WMA and AAC. More obscure audio formats (OGG, for example) aren't catered for, and neither is DRM-protected ACC music that you may have bought from iTunes.
Unlike previous Walkmans, music is copied onto the NWZ-A468 by dragging and dropping -- there's no annoying software such as iTunes to get in your way and slow you down. This makes it easy to copy music onto the device from any computer in any location, but it does present a few drawbacks.
Firstly, the NWZ-A468 doesn't support gapless playback -- there's always an annoying pause between the end of one song and the start of another, even if they're meant to mix seamlessly together. Secondly, it can't play music or video while connected to your computer. That's a tad annoying, as the only way to charge the device is by connecting it to a PC -- Sony hasn't supplied an AC adaptor.
Sound as a pound
The NWZ-A468 is a strong performer. It has a slight bias towards mid-range and high-end frequencies, so it's well-suited to vocal, acoustic and pop music. But those who enjoy plenty of bass in their tracks can crank up the lower frequencies by tweaking the graphic equaliser or by choosing from a range of genre presets.
Most bundled earphones sound pretty bad, but we liked the Sony EX set that come with the NWZ-A468. They deliver good all-round sound quality and allow users to make the most of the player's built-in digital noise-cancellation feature, which drowns out noises from the outside world.
Three noise-cancellation presets are available: bus, plane and office. The first two do a good job of cancelling out the low rumbling sound of engines and the loud screech of the Tube, but the latter struggles to cancel out the general hubbub of an office.
The Sony Walkman NWZ-A846 looks great, sounds smashing and offers a useful noise-cancellation feature and brilliant display. It's rather expensive for our tastes, and lacks the iPod touch's ability to run apps, but, if you don't mind forking out, it will prove a fabulous choice.
Edited by Charles Kloet