We've been consistently impressed with Sony's Walkman series and we've been eagerly anticipating the newest arrival. This latest model -- also known as the NWZ-A820 series or the lengthy NWZA826KB and NWZA826K -- takes over from the NWZ-A810 series and adds stereo Bluetooth, plus a host of other improvements. It's currently available for around £130, but will we be as impressed this time around?
Sony's players never fail to win style points with us. The A826 is sleek, with an aluminium enclosure and a beautiful 61mm (2.4-inch) screen. The 320x240-pixel display is bright and boasts terrific pixel density to produce a sharp image. You'll see vivid colours and decent blacks on this screen. Slightly larger than its predecessor, the A826's navigation pad has also been redesigned -- a four-way control pad sits in the middle. Dedicated 'back' and 'option' buttons are on either side à la most mobile phones.
What we do quite like is the dedicated button for switching Bluetooth on and off -- it's extremely useful. On the downside, the player uses a proprietary USB cable, so you'll want to kick yourself if you lose the one supplied.
Obviously then, Bluetooth is a feature and you'll find Bluetooth headphones in the box -- they're very average, though -- along with the standard earphones. The player will pair with Bluetooth speakers and other earphones -- we hooked them up easily to a pair of Etymotic ETY-8s. Sadly, you can't sync to a PC this way.
Supported audio formats include MP3, protected and unprotected WMA and unprotected AAC, while video support simply includes MPEG-4. Napster purchases and 'Napster To Go' songs work without problem, and syncing with Windows Media Player, Napster or Windows drag 'n' drop is about as painless as rolling around in a pile of marshmellows. Album art is supported, too.
Operating the player couldn't be simpler unless, of course, you were doing it with your mind. Menus are basic and attractive, with no obvious stumbling blocks for technophobes or digital newbies. The larger font and clear screen will ensure you won't be squinting at the player while you change tracks. A thumbnail layout and attractive slideshows give JPEG photos and videos a similarly engaging feel.
Organising your inspirational workout playlists -- the Rocky theme, Eye of the Tiger, etc -- can be done within Windows Media Player, but they cannot be created on the fly within the player itself. The bundled software is convoluted functionality-wise, but will handle your podcasts and even Flickr feeds. You can easily add the feed for your contacts' most recent photo uploads and their photos will automatically appear in the player's photo library when you connect it to a PC.
Podcasts are synced in the same way, though they just appear within artist / album lists as if they were music. There's no playback position bookmarking for podcasts, however; you won't find support for Audible downloads, an FM radio, voice recording or gapless playback either.