Coming in at around £60, the same price as Apple's latest iPod shuffle, Sony's cordless Walkman NWZ-W202 MP3 player offers half the memory, at 2GB, but a much more eye-catching appearance. The shiny, space-age design feels most at home in the gym but Sony also promises sound quality to rival higher-end players.
When not in use, the NWZ-W202's magnetic headphones connect to each other neatly, and you certainly won't suffer the age-old problem of tangled cords with this player. The NWZ-W202's tough build feels more than capable of standing up to intense workouts. The headphones are adjustable, and stay in place even on cross-country runs.
Sony has long been a fan of the jog dial and it proves the perfect way of controlling this small, screen-less player. One firm press brings the NWZ-W202 to life, and then you just flick the dial to pause and skip between tracks or activate the Zappin song-navigation feature (see below for more on Zappin). The volume rocker is stiff enough to avoid deafening yourself accidentally. The magnetic link between the headphones also functions as a power switch -- you simply snap the two together to turn the player off.
Taking a leaf out of Apple's book, there's a conspicuous shuffle-mode switch on the back of NWZ-W202, and the device can play AAC files, in addition to MP3s and DRM-protected WMAs.
The NWZ-W202 is charged and loaded via an unprotected mini-USB port and a stylish dock/display stand. Sony recommends Windows Media Player 11 for copying songs to the player, but it's just as easy to drag and drop files.
The NWZ-W202's battery deserves a special mention. While a full charge -- giving around 12 hours playback -- takes about an hour and a half, you'll get around 90 minutes' playback from a charge of just 3 minutes -- ideal when you're in a rush.
The NWZ-W202's sound quality is where the device really has an advantage over the shuffle. The bass is solid, the treble is clear and the mid-range is smoother than a freshly shaved Olympic cyclist. The headphones trounce Apple's own earbuds in every way, and are particularly suited to belting out power pop and dance tunes.
The NWZ-W202's metallic styling could most charitably be described as 'eye-catching', and few people will believe you when you tell them that this over-sized player doesn't double as a Bluetooth headset.
Sony's Zappin navigation system is almost comically misjudged. It's meant to extract recognisable snippets from each tune to help you quickly find the song you're after. In fact, it just picks out random snatches of music to the accompaniment of a cheesy zapping noise and an American voice exclaiming 'Zappin in!'.
It's a shame that Sony decided to ditch the impressive noise-cancelling function found on earlier its earlier sporty MP3 players, and there are no EQ options or FM radio, either.
Whereas Apple's miniscule new iPod shuffle tries very hard to blend in, Sony's Walkman NWZ-W202 tries equally hard to grab your attention. If you don't mind its eye-catching, gym-geek appearance, its practical design, simple interface and superb sound quality will probably win you over.
Edited by Charles Kloet