Sony NWZ-S638F (8GB) review

Sony's NWZ-S638F S-series Walkman is the perfect ultra-portable for the Apple agnostics Tested at £90.00

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Our Verdict

The S-series Walkman is the perfect ultra-portable for the Apple agnostics

For

  • Compact design
  • extremely capable audio
  • brilliant (though small) screen
  • support for iPlayer

Against

  • That darned iPod nano

We looked at the 16GB version of Sony's S-series Walkman in January, where we proclaimed it to be "the best non-Apple ultra-portable we've seen".

The good news is that the 8GB version proves that's still the case; the bad news is that this means it's still not good enough to dethrone the nano.

The design itself lacks the sleek stylishness of the iPod nano, as well as its fascia minimalism, but the Sony is well made and boasts a screen of identical size to the Apple.

Format support is good by the standards of key rivals, with non-DRMed AAC compatibility adding to the usual options of MP3 and WMA, as well as WAV for uncompressed tunes.

Support for BBC iPlayer
Video support consists of MPEG-4, H.264, WMV and the all-important iPlayer downloads. Although Sony does bundle its Media Manager software with the Walkman, there's not really much need to stray from Windows Media Player or drag-and-drop.

However, one piece of paper in the box that's worth looking at is the three-month free trial of Napster's excellent music download service.

The bundled headphones are actually the best here, but that's not saying a great deal and we'd still heartily recommend an upgrade for both sound and comfort reasons.

Do so and the musical delivery becomes excellent. Playing Flobots' Fight With Tools demonstrates the Walkman's impressively deep and taut bottom-end that gives the track its intended drive and weight.

Thankfully this doesn't come at the expense of the midrange or treble, both of which remain clear and balanced.

Undoubtedly the best of the rest
This is the only player on test that genuinely pushes the nano, but after truly extensive listening it becomes clear that the Sony just lacks that extra degree of vim and vigour that the Apple offers.

It's that last bit of excitement that's missing, and no amount of experimenting with the equaliser finds it.

The screen might be smaller than some, but it's also sharper and more detailed than all but the nano.

The unit is still really too small to be considered a genuine movie player, but if you do find yourself filling your time on the tube with iPlayer's Lark Rise to Candleford, you can at least be sure that it'll look great.

All-in-all the NWZ-S638F represents a valiant effort from Sony, but unless you simply cannot bring yourself to buy an Apple, second place on your shopping list is going to have to do for Sony.