Sony Walkman Z
- $299.99 for 16GB; $399.99 for 32GB
- Available at: Sony Store, other retailers to follow in coming weeks
Apple's iPod may have supplanted the tape deck and CD changer as the dominant music source in the car, but true audiophiles haven't always liked that evolution. Though it's unclear whether Sony even had the confines of a car in mind with its new Walkman Z, it might be an appealing alternative to the iPod.
The Walkman Z is an Android version of the iPod, meaning that it's a dedicated music player that can do almost everything a smartphone can, except make calls. Running on Android 2.3 with a 4.3-inch touch-screen, 16 GB or 32 GB of storage and access to the gamut of Android apps, its specs look pretty good on paper.
Its key differentiator is the sound processing and fidelity that Sony packed into the device. For a driver looking to play tunes through an AUX-In or Bluetooth connection, the Walkman Z might be a step up from any other MP3 player on the market.
For one, music sounds great on the Walkman, and it helps that Sony provides excellent ear buds to keep you listening after you leave your car. Highs, mids and bass are all resonant and vibrant, without one overpowering another. The balance is actually pretty surprising for a mobile device. A visual equalizer is built-in, and you can tinker further using the xLOUD, VPT and Clear Phase features. Download equalizer apps from the Android Market and you can probably experiment even more.
Although Sony pre-loaded the Walkman Z with its Music Unlimited service, it wasn't available to test out for this review, but company officials say it will be opened up "very soon". Storing music onto the Walkman is as easy as connecting it to a PC or Mac and dragging and dropping tracks into the proper folder. You can edit playlists or play music based on mood using the SensMe feature.
Press the dedicated Walkman button on the side and the playback screen pops up, which can be a really convenient way to skip tracks or pause the music. It would've been a unique and helpful to have a short list of playlists or tracks to add a few more navigation options, but you only get the bare minimum from this "dedicated" path.
If you plan on using an FM transmitter, you will run into problems because Sony opted to use a proprietary charging port for some bizarre reason. Battery life is also fairly low at up to 20 hours for audio playback (that's half of an iPod Touch), and though you don't get a 12V charger in the box, you can use any 12V charger that has a USB port as a workaround.
Unfortunately, the Walkman doesn't integrate as easily into in-car systems as the iPod does, since auto makers and the aftermarket tailor their products more to Apple's iOS devices. And, of course, the Walkman can't mask a bad sound system.
Despite that, the irony here is that the Walkman does better in the car as a music source than it does as an all-around portable media player. The reasons why vary and may not be relevant to self-respecting audiophiles anyway.