Review of Sony Walkman NWZ-A829

Sony is expanding its Walkman line of digital media players with the NWZ-A820 series, including NWZ-A829 (16GB), NWZ-A828 (8GB) and NWZ-A826 (4GB). My review unit was the 16GB NWZ-A829. I should note from the outset that I’ve never owned an iPod or comparable MP3 player, instead using a series of mobile phones as my media players of choice over the last four or five years. Little wonder then when I was first notified of the NWZ-A829 winging my way, and I searched for an image of the device, my initial reaction was, “Wow, what a cool looking phone!”. Imagine my disappointment when I opened the package and realized this is a Sony without the Ericsson!

DSC00128After getting over the omission of a radio transceiver I quickly started to appreciate the aesthetics of the device. The NWZ-A829 Walkman has a clear bright 2.4-inch QVGA screen, 16GB of flash and stereo Bluetooth A2DP. The latter feature I wasn’t able to test because I don’t own a bluetooth headset but I have to say the bundled earbuds gave the best listening experience of any portable music player I’ve ever tested. Bar none. I tested the audio through a range of my eclectic tastes and it was never less than astonishing.

My test unit came in sleek piano black and there’s a choice of three other colours – silver, gold, and pink. At 58g it feels very light, almost too light. My phone has survived being sat on a number of times, I’m not sure this Walkman would. Sony claim 10 hours of battery life for video and a massive 36 hours for music playback. Though the screen and video playback quality are excellent my aging eyes couldn’t watch that much video on 2.4-inches of pixels but I can confirm circa 10 hours of music per charge. Apparently, even with Bluetooth stereo enabled, playback stretches to 15 hours of music. It’s hard to imagine being satisfied with compressed bluetooth channeled audio though after getting used to the EX headset.

It’s just as well that my propensity for eyestrain meant I couldn’t push the video test to the limit – the bundled Media Manager software demanded an upgrade to the Pro version before converting my 3GP files to the MPEG-4/H.264 format the player recognizes. Talk about about a dumb move Sony! Media Manager disappointed in more ways too – it takes forever to start up and sports an unintuitive monochromatic interface. Having said that the sample videos already on the device looked terrific, the World Cup highlights movie in particular proving the quality of 30fps blur-free playback.

Overall I have to wonder though if the window of opportunity for this category of device is not quickly snapping shut. My 18 year old nephew recently donated his 2nd gen iPod to his young sister in favour of consuming his portable digital media on a mid-range Nokia phone. He’s happy to put up with lower quality audio and average video in exchange for convenience – his phone is always charged (or being charged) and is the only device he carries everywhere. I used to thnk I was odd is holding firm against the iPod/dedicated-MP3-player wave but it’s clear that the Apple iPhone is reaction to a wider market trend. And dedicated MP3 players are going the same way as the dedicated digital camera – steadily being assimilated by the mobile phone.

If you’re the kind of person though who’ll stand firm against that trend, and money is no object, you could do much worse than the Sony Walkan NWZ-A820 series which hits stores this month. Priced around USD$319.

Good:

  • Sleek, stylish, light form factor
  • Excellent video quality on a 2.4 inch QVGA screen
  • Superb audio quality through bundled EX earbuds
  • Great Battery life

Bad:

  • Media Manager software
  • Busy interface
  • No bookmarking feature (for podcasts)
  • Fast forward too slow (particularly for podcasts)
  • Expensive
  • It’s not a phone!

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