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Slacker and YouTube infiltrate Sony X-Series Walkman

The Sony X-Series Walkman features a slick, touch-sensitive interface; onboard Slacker and YouTube apps; and an extraordinarily straightforward transfer process.

Now playing: Watch this: Sony X-Series Walkman

If you've been drooling over the Sony's touch-screen Walkman, the X-Series, since it was initially announced at CES 2009, I've got some good news and some bad. The bad news is that you're going to have to wait some more--the player isn't expected to hit shelves for another month or so. (SonyStyle will start taking preorders today, however.) On the plus side, the good news is considerable. The new Walkman is a joy to use, and it packs in a cadre of fun features, not the least of which are onboard apps for YouTube and Slacker.

Yep, you read right: you can get all the free music you want on the X-Series Walkman. And unlike with the Apple iPod Touch, you won't need a constant Wi-Fi connection to have access to it. While the X-Series does include a wireless antenna for hopping on to hot spots, the Slacker app only needs access to the network when refreshing station content. Each time you refresh, music is cached to the Walkman so that you can listen to it wherever you are, regardless of Internet access. (In other words, it functions in exactly the same way as on the BlackBerry.)

The beauty here is threefold. First, the music is completely free, though you will have to tolerate a few audio ads and skip limits (you can do away with these by signing up for Slacker Radio Plus for $3.99 per month). Also, you don't have to spend countless hours creating custom playlists, and when you get sick of your library on shuffle, you can simply choose from the wide variety of genre- and decade-based stations in the Slacker rotation. Finally, you don't need to connect to a computer to get brand-new music on your MP3 player, although it is worth mentioning that you must hook up the Walkman initially in order to customize which stations you want to live on the device. In addition to the Slacker content, the player supports transferred songs in MP3, WMA, AAC, and WAV format.

Dragging your finger across the screen lets you tilt and scan quickly through album art. Sony

Of course, the X-Series Walkman doesn't stop with music--the 3-inch, capacitive touch display lends itself well to video, and the integrated YouTube app means you can access free content anywhere you are connected to Wi-Fi. The player also supports purchased video from Amazon Video On Demand and any other online store that uses protected WMV. In addition, you get native playback of AVC (H.264/AVC), WMV, and MPEG-4. Plus, Sony has updated its superbly agile Content Transfer app, which can now automatically transcode video into a format supported by the Walkman.

The X-Series Walkman also offers a few more Wi-Fi-related features worth noting. The first is an integrated Web browser, though it must be said that the iPod Touch has the Walkman beat here. It's nice that Sony thought to include one at all, but it's quite basic, and the virtual keypad is alphanumeric, which makes entering Web sites and search terms a bit tedious. I'm super keen on the wireless podcast updating feature, though. You can even subscribe to podcasts on-the-go. Also, the player has a "Related Links" function on the music playback screen that takes you directly to a YouTube video search for the artist/song or a Yahoo general search.

There is one final detail about the Sony X-Series Walkman that goes beyond the norm, and that's the interface--it's the best touch-screen utilization next to the iPod Touch. In fact, it's the only other touch screen I've come across that's actually been fun to use. It has the "bounce back" effect when you are quickly scrolling through a long list, and a rather cool and unusual tilted scrolling effect for video and album art that's hard to explain in print--best to check out the video above for that. But perhaps best of all, you don't even need to use the touch screen for playback controls. The Walkman has tactile play/pause and track shuttle buttons on the top side, as well as a dedicated volume rocker on the right edge, meaning blind (in-pocket) navigation is a possibility with this player. That's truly a rarity in a touch-screen device.

As for the nitty-gritty features, the X-Series Walkman has them in spades. There's integrated noise canceling (built to work with the included MDR-NC020 EX headphones); an onboard FM tuner; a five-band EQ including two custom settings and DSNe sound enhancement; and support for photos and slideshows. The player is constructed of sturdy metal with glossy face and back plates wrapped in a seamless textured edge (it was modeled after a geode). It measures 3.8 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.4 inch, making it solid but still pocket-friendly.

The Sony X-Series Walkman is expected to hit shelves in mid-June and will be priced competitively with the iPod Touch. The 16GB model carries an expected MSRP of $299, while the 32GB will go for $100 more.