Sony’s answer to the iPod Touch has finally arrived. Is this the best Walkman yet?
Sony’s X-Series Walkman is a big deal – so big that we were flown to Tokyo last December just to see it. This touch-sensitive, OLED-toting noise-canceller is Sony’s answer to the iPod Touch and it’s dripping with next-generation functionality.
The X Series comes in two flavours – a 16GB model (the X1050), and a top-end 32GB version (the X1060). Capacity is the only difference between the players – otherwise both share the same 3in OLED screen and pack Wi-Fi and an FM radio.
As you’d expect from a Walkman the X-series’ main focus is music. Its S-master amplification and various audio enhancements (DSEE upscaling, Clear Stereo and more) promise much, and deliver – just not quite enough.
There’s plenty of weight and dynamics on offer – enough to trump most rivals – but we’ve heard players with superior detail resolution. It’s still good, just not breathtakingly so.
Disappointingly, the maximum resolution of videos the X-series will display is 320x240. Still, movement is faultless and colours are vibrant with minimal picture noise on its 3in, OLED screen.
Its smaller size means it can’t beat the iPod Touch’s 3.5-incher for video, and the resolution is a fair bit lower, but it has a trump card in supporting downloaded iPlayer content.
Cancel the noise
The built-in noise-cancelling isn’t a ‘world first’ as Sony has claimed – it did that back in 2007 with its NW-S705 – but the X-series’ built-in noise cancelling works rather well.
The included headphones actually block out a fair whack of noise anyway, but when you engage the switch on the right-hand side of the player there’s a noticeable dulling in background hullabaloo. Is it worth paying extra for? Almost certainly not, as sound-isolating headphones do the same job, but it’s a neat trick.
It’s a shame the noise cancelling won’t work without Sony’s included headphones, but a decent pair of sound-isolating in-ears will do just as good a job and save on the battery power the noise cancellation process eats.
Wild wild web
The X-series has Wi-Fi built-in with a web browser and Youtube client to exploit its spoils. The NetFront browser is quick and easy to navigate, though its rendering engine could do with some of Opera Mini’s nouse – Stuff.tv looked particularly garbled.
The Youtube client, however, is excellent, with a fast-loading, inertial scrolling list of hits available whenever you search. Unfortunately, searching relies on the useless keyboard.
Its phone keypad-style layout isn’t supplemented by XT9 and it’s a palaver getting anything typed in. Familiarity will doubtless improve this, but it’s nowhere near as friendly as the iPod Touch’s.
Solid build quality
As if to stick a couple of fingers up at its mirrored rival, the X-Series has a unique rough glaze on its metal sides. It feels great to hold and could possibly prevent hand slippage when you’re vigorously stroking that screen.
Overall it’s an impressively solid device, substituting the high design feel of the Touch for a serious audio product aesthetic, replete with excessive labelling and stickers.
If you’re familiar with Sony’s recent Walkmans you’ll get its mobile phone-style interface in a jiffy. The touchscreen is generally responsive and there’s enough poke to ensure scrolling through album art is well oiled – and pretty.
But what really sets the Walkman apart are its hardware buttons. The ones on top are especially cleverly placed, allowing easy in-pocket operation.
They round off an MP3 player package that, while impressive, doesn't quite live up to our expectations – or, more crucially, the iPod Touch's lofty standards.