Finding a chink in Apple's armour is not easy, especially if you're attempting to breach Fortress iPod which seems to have all the angles covered. But Sony isn't ready to give up just yet, launching an all-new Walkman in the shape of the NWZ-Z1000.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – Android action
In developing the Z-series, predictably Sony has hitched a ride aboard the Android wagon, delivering what looks and feels just like a high-end smartphone, only without the phone bits. Or a camera.
There are plenty of good reasons for this approach. There's Android Market access, so beyond music and video it can also play games, network socially and browse the web. However, that puts it head-to-head with the iPod Touch, which is a brave place to be.
Let's address that little battle first: iPod Touch wins.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – as a media player
Judged purely as a music and video player, Apple's touchscreen iPod takes the honours with its neater, more user-friendly music player backed up by the rather lovely iTunes. The Walkman's music app is OK but over-complicated by the use of on-screen controls and Android soft-keys. It also has the usual half-baked support for enhanced podcasts and a tendancy to ignore cover art on certain imported files, and rather irritatingly has a habit of snapping into different views and menu styles as you flick around.
Dig into the settings and you'll find a mass of audio processing modes that, aside from the manual EQ, generally confuse the sound rather than enhance it.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – all-round entertainer
As a more wide-ranging entertainer it loses out to the iPod Touch on the quality of apps in the Android Market compared to the App Store. Still, those who like total control over their devices will revel in Android's freedom and mile-deep option menus, and the Z1000 has enough power to slip and slide around the OS in glitch-free style.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – design
On the outside the Z1000 makes a good impression with a coloured metal-feel rear, bright screen (although viewing angles are disappointing) and solid build. However, the decision to put the headphone socket at the bottom is puzzling, as the jack gets in the way of the controls, making it awkward to hold. Yes, the iPod Touch also has its headphone socket at the bottom, but the Sony's larger frame and concentration of controls at the bottom make this more of an issue here.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – sound quality
Sound quality is a strong point, especially as the Z-series comes with a pair of quality sound-isolating in-ear headphones. It even has a reasonable external speaker and an FM radio. It's honours even here for Sony and Apple.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – wireless streaming
Beyond music, the Z-series can play videos (although you'll want to download a superior app such as MoboPlayer for wider format support), output them via HDMI and stream them wirelessly to other DLNA-compatible gear around the home.
Sony NWZ-Z1000 – Music Unlimited
Sony has nothing to rival iTunes in terms of a music hub, but it does offer its Music Unlimited service, starting at £3.99, which lets you stream popular tracks on demand, so long as you're hooked up via Wi-Fi.
The trouble with the Z1000 is that it's just too close to a smartphone in terms of size, price and performance for it to justify itself. That is, unless you're not in a position to chose your own phone (let's say you're tied to a work BlackBerry for example) or are determined not to follow the Apple line. In that case maybe it will appeal, but we're travelling down a rapidly narrowing niche here.