Three of A Kind, of Walkman that is
It's been less than a week since Sony announced the new Walkman lineup and the opinions in the Walkman community are mixed. One obvious problem is Sony US's decision to only offer the 16GB A-Series while the competition is at 64GB. This clearly demonstrates how much confidence Sony has for the US market, unless Sony has another higher capacity Walkman in the works to replace the 32GB X-Series? So are the new Walkmans worth their price? My thoughts after the break.
The design of the new Walkmans is an evolution of the older generations with little departure from the "Mickey Mouse head" button design. This button design is not a favourite of mine, but it is slowly growing on me and one cohesive design is better than a plethora of button layouts in different models.
The new A-Series appears to be a direct replacement for the X-Series with a large touchscreen (LCD, 400x240), a single Home button and physical controls for playback control. Unfortunately the X-Series' OLED screen did not make the transition to the new A-Series even though it was initially rumoured that an OLED would be used. What boggles my mind is that the previous A-Series had an OLED screen albeit not touchscreen, but an OLED nonetheless. The absence of the OLED could be a sign that there is room for another higher end model with an OLED touchscreen but that remains to be seen.
The continued addition of physical controls is a major advantage on a touch device since blind use is possible in one's pocket. Personally I like the look of the new A-Series, I swear I saw some website stating the body was aluminum but no such information exists in the press release. The lack of an OLED screen is a shame but in the end I won't be using the device for video or photos so it is not a major loss. My initial reaction when I saw LCD and not OLED was disappointment but the X-Series is experimental and the A-Series is more mainstream but higher end, so perhaps this is Sony's reasoning.
The new S-Series' design departs from the previous model with a one piece body and an addition of chrome surrounds around the main controls. The entire body has a glossy look and feel with an overall design almost eerily similar to the E050 Walkman. Interesting enough in some press photos the chrome around the controls is not as evident and on the gold colour model the surround appears more gold like in colour than chrome. Overall I like the new S-Series, it is a much better design than the previous S750 model and on par with the S740 model. It is unfortunate that noise cancellation was removed since the S-Series is meant to be specialized and most of the higher end S-Series models featured NC.
Finally the humble E-Series with it's plethora of colours and patterns. Like the previous E-Series, the new E460 features a similar 2-inch LCD and slightly if just updated body design. The only thing the new E-Series offers is upgraded headphones, MDR-EX083 vs MDR-E804 on the old E-Series. If prices remain the same, upgrading to a higher capacity E-Series might just be worth it. I use the EX083s daily for my Vaio and would definitely recommend the new E-Series against similarly priced competitors just for the upgraded headphones.
Instead of WiFi, Sony has opted for Bluetooth on the new A and S-Series. This is a feature that some users have been asking for and it appears Sony has listened or it is just a coincidence. Sony has included Bluetooth 2.1+EDR instead of version 3.0 but perhaps this was cost issue. Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) permits streaming of audio to Bluetooth headphones and AVRCP or Audio/Video Remote Control Profile which permits the devices to be used as a single controller for TVs, Hi-fi equipment which I have no real idea what it will be used for. Finally there is Object Push Profile (OPP) which is what permits the sending of images to the devices. Other than streaming to headphones, the new A and S will be able to stream to other Bluetooth enabled devices which means any speaker dock with Bluetooth will now work with the new A and S. Hopefully Sony will decide to release some more Bluetooth speaker docks or micro systems which can be used with Walkmans.
In the US, the new S-Series will come with both the wireless headphones and a standard set. The included wireless set is the MDR-NWBT10 which permits up to 4 hours of listening on one charge. But if one already owns a pair of Bluetooth headphones, they will function with the new A and S without a problem.
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In Europe and possibly elsewhere, the standard S-Series will not ship with the wireless headphones but will be offered as a separate model, the NWZ-S763BT. The model number is a bit odd, since it would mean the capacity is 4GB but no such model exists, perhaps it is a typo and it will be either 8 or 16 GB. In the US market only the 8 GB S-Series will be offered for the time being.
Bluetooth is a nice addition, unfortunately not a replacement for WiFi, but it is a start. It would have been nice to be able to transfer music files to the devices using Bluetooth but I have no idea if sending large files would be feasible but it exists for cell phones so why not a mp3 player?
4GB? 16GB? 32GB? 64GB? How much is enough? It all depends on the individual of course. Personally I have yet to even fill half of my X's 32GB of storage, so 32GB would be enough for me but then sometimes more is better as they say. Sony has not "cheaped out" on capacity this time around, offering the 64GB A-Series right from the start, so far only Germany has the 64GB model and the rest of the countries in the EU feature a mix of 8, 16 and 32 GB models.
As I state at the beginning, the US is slated to only receive the 16GB A-Series for the time being with anyone wanted the 64GB model will have to either wait or import it from Europe or elsewhere. Perhaps if demand for the new Walkman is high enough, Sony might introduce a higher capacity model. But if someone just wants a high capacity Walkman and no gimmicks, then the 16GB E-Series (NWZ-E465) will be offered in the US, but not in Europe.
The new Walkman generation is a nice step forward with the return of Blueooth and great design, but the lack of OLED and noise cancellation from either the A or S-Series is a shame. The FCC filings for the A-Series clearly showed a noise cancellation emblem on the back so it is unknown what happened here, perhaps it was removed or will be featured in another A-Series, perhaps the A960? Personally I don't foresee that occuring any time soon, but I from my own use, I will vouche for noise cancellation it is a great feature to have on a Walkman.
Lack of WiFi is not a major issue for me, since I never use it on my X, but if Sony somehow figured out a way to transfer files to & from the Walkmans using WiFi from a PC/Laptop, then this would be a great feature. The issue of copyrighted material crops up of course, but then the Walkman line is already open and easily accessible using Windows explorer so sharing can be done this way as well. WiFi transfer exists on the Samsung Galaxy S2 and I would imagine it would not be too difficult in implementing it on a Sony Walkman.
Perhaps there is something to look forward to, with the A-Series taking the place of the X, a new X-Series could be coming down the line in the next 3-6 months. Clearly IFA would be too early, unless a concept Walkman is shown, but my bet is for a CES 2011 debut, perhaps similar to the original X, concept first, and production a few months later. Let's just hope that the production model arrives faster than the X did.
So where does this update leave the Walkman brand? It is definitely a good start but with more and more cell phones offering better sound and more rich features, the standalone MP3 player is slowly becoming endangered and if sales become too low, then perhaps the Walkman brand as a standalone MP3 player will fade away only to continue as a sub brand of the Sony Ericsson brand. I just hope it does not come to that.