Historically, Sony's Walkman brand has given birth to some sensational audio products. Can its latest offering keep up the good work?
The NWZ-A826 is Sony's new 4GB entry-level Walkman. Compared to its predecessor, it's slimmer and boasts a more attractive aluminium exterior. The fascia hosts a small, square control pad that allows you to navigate the player's fool-proof menu system. Granted, it's on the pricey side (£40 more than the equivalent 4GB iPod nano) but you do get superior battery life (a mighty 36 hours for music, 10 hours for video) and a few extra features...
The screen is an impressive 2.4in QVGA effort that shows a fine level of detail and handles the dark action scenes of Ghost Rider extremely well. The Sony is compatible with MPEG-4 and AVC (H.264) files but getting them on the player can prove problematic.
Software is a pain to use
The only software that Sony provides is an MP3 ripper and Media Manager. And, unlike music files that you can drag and drop directly onto the player, you have to move video files into Media Manager before they can be transferred across. It's a laborious process. Also, the fact that Media Manager can't convert video files means you'll need to find additional software.
The key feature of the new Walkman though, is its integrated Bluetooth functionality. The NWZ-A826 comes with its own set of Bluetooth on-ear headphones (see panel) in addition to a standard, wired pair. Unfortunately, they don't sound particularly good. The sound they deliver is thin and insubstantial. The wired headphones fare marginally better with their clear, inoffensive sound, but there's still a lack of body and drive.
Buy some better headphones
It's definitely worth upgrading, but remember this increases the cost of what is already a relatively expensive MP3 player. Hook up a decent pair of 'phones, and the Walkman reveals its true colours. It sounds detailed, punchy and enthusiastic. There's great separation between instruments and vocals during One taken from Metallica'a superb S&M live album. Whether its WMA or AAC files Sony's Walkman never fails to give a great account of itself.
There's no doubt that the new Walkman is a very desirable MP3 player. It has features and functionality to rival the very best, but there are a few niggles standing in the way of a full compliment of five stars. Not everyone worships at the altar of Apple, so if you want a good alternative, give the Walkman a whirl.