MP3 players have to offer a lot these days to command a place in the premium pocket real estate. Sadly, Sony doesn't seem to have realised the challenge smart phones represent and has offered the Sony Walkman NWZ-B152, a near identical revision to its NWZ-B142F Walkman of two years ago. The only notable changes are a lack of FM radio and a godawful jog dial. The Sony Walkman NWZ-B152 is on sale now at Sony stores and online for a modest £35.
Blast from the past
The B152 player looks nearly identical to its predecessor, the B142F. They're both about the same size as a moderately sized USB stick, both have tiny, three-line monochrome displays and both feature a built-in USB connector underneath a plastic cap at the end.
The only discernible 'upgrade' on the B152 is the jog dial, which allows users to turn a wheel to skip tracks or navigate menus. Don't be too excited, though -- this dial makes menu navigation far more awkward than it needs to be and is made of such shoddy plastic that it actually rattles when you shake it. The B152 is definitely pocket-friendly, but we wouldn't trust that dial to survive being crammed into our jeans with reckless abandon every day.
The USB connector is hiding under the cap at the end, which will make it easier to transfer files over, but may leave you in mortal fear of losing the cap and surrendering the player to an onslaught of pocket fluff and dirt. On the top and bottom of the player are buttons for play mode, volume, voice recording and hold that all, thankfully, feel slightly better built than the jog dial.
The tiny screen provides three lines of information about track name and artist. It won't display your photos, but on a player this size, you wouldn't want to sit around looking at the screen anyway.
Performance, performance, performance
Sony usually ekes fairly decent audio quality out of its smaller Walkman MP3 players, so we expected the B152 to gain some points here. While the high and mid-range frequencies were pretty good, the player's low-end capabilities left us rather underwhelmed.
The B152 does have a bass-boost button that dramatically increases low-end levels. The problem is, without the bass boost we found the audio was lacking in warmth, and with the boost enabled, the bass was overpowering and unrealistic. A tough choice.
A custom equaliser would have been a useful inclusion that would have enabled us to tweak the settings. A further slight annoyance came from the three red LED lights that flash continuously when the bass boost is engaged.
The B152 does gain some favour from its decent battery life. It can achieve up to 18 hours of playback from a single full charge which will easily give a week's worth of play if you only use your player on the commute to work. In case of power emergency though, the B152 has a quick-charge feature that can provide 90 minutes of play time from only a 3-minute charge.
Pick up and play
To allow you to use this guy straight out of the box, the built-in USB connector allows you to simply drag and drop files over, requiring no fiddly software, which is excellent.
Sony has also chucked in a set of earbud headphones for you. Bundled earphones are normally ghastly affairs that make us want to weep with despair at how our favourite band is being tortured, but Sony's aren't too bad. You'll absolutely want to upgrade to a better, more comfortable pair, such as the Sennheiser MX 560s, as soon as possible, but the included 'phones have a sound you could probably live with for a few hours at least.
Another nail in the coffin for the B152 came from Sony's decision to rip out the radio function. We previously enjoyed the radio on the B142F, as it let us listen to some fresh tunes we couldn't store on the player's small capacity. Why Sony has decided to remove it with the most recent model, we just couldn't say -- it's not like it's made it any cheaper.
At £35 for the 2GB B152 model (or £41 for the B153), this player isn't going to break the bank, but you really aren't getting much for your money.
Sony has made no effort to upgrade this player from its 2-year-old brother and Sony may well find it difficult to convince people to part with their pocket money for a dedicated Walkman, rather than spending the same money on a good pair of headphones to use with their smart phone.
The tiny screen and shocking navigation jog dial leave this player firmly in the past, being only slightly redeemed by its pocket-friendly size and good battery life.
Edited by Nick Hide