The Sony Walkman Z is all about the music, man. This Android-powered, big-screen rival to the Apple iPod touch offers a great experience for the ears -- but can it match up to the iPod, or more importantly, to other Android devices?
Audio is definitely the focus in the Walkman Z. A dedicated Walkman button launches and hides the music app, so your tunes are always a mere moment away.
It features Sony's S-Master MX Digital Amplifier and 5 Clear Audio technologies built-in to ensure that sound quality is crystal clear. And it comes with a decent pair of earphones, which are often left out with many MP3 players. If you're listening to your music on the white Apple earphones that came with your iPod or iPhone, you might as well be spitting in your favourite singer's face. Throw them out right now and invest in a decent pair. We'll wait.
Listen to MP3s from Windows Media Player or iTunes, whichever you prefer to use on your computer. Or you can stream music from apps like Spotify. Sony has its own online streaming service, Music Unlimited, to listen to songs sent wirelessly from the web to your Walkman, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.
We're certainly impressed by the audio quality. The rest of the device is less notable.
The Z is built by Sony, but everything you see on the screen and the way you control it is run by Google's Android software for mobile phones. Android is great because it's based around home screens you fill with shortcuts to your favourite stuff, and it's endlessly customisable to give you the experience you want.
You can download apps from Android Market to do anything from showing you the weather to accessing Facebook or changing the way the player looks and behaves. You can browse the web, check your email or see what your friends are up to, all while listening to your tunes.
In fact, you can do anything you would on an Android phone except make phone calls.
The problem is, why would you bother? The Walkman Z joins the Samsung Galaxy Player 50, Galaxy S WiFi 4.0, and Galaxy S WiFi 5.0 in direct competition with Apple's iPod touch. People are still buying iPods, even though sales are in decline, but we can't help feeling these devices are a bit pointless -- why carry around a phone and an MP3 player when a phone does everything?
The Z boasts Wi-Fi to browse the web or download new apps, so you need to be in a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to the Internet. But there's no 3G, like on a phone, so you can't go on the Internet, update an app or find where you are on a map when you're out and about.
The Walkman Z, the Galaxy Players and the iPod touch don't do anything that Sony Ericsson, Samsung Galaxy and iPhone smart phones don't offer. Sure, they're cheaper than their smart phone equivalents, but there are plenty of budget Android phones that play music and movies and browse the web and use apps but don't cost the earth.
The 4.3-inch screen is bigger than that of the iPod touch. But it's not really competing with the touch. It's up against other Android phones that do the same stuff, only cheaper.
It's also thicker than the iPod touch, and is at the upper end of the size you could comfortably fit in a pocket. And where's the camera?
Even worse, there's a non-standard charging port. The adoption of one type of charging cable for all phones in the last couple of years is one of the best things that ever happened to mobiles, so ditching micro-USB for a proprietary cable is a real step backwards by the Z.
Inside there's a powerful 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor to keep things moving fast and make sure web browsing, gaming and watching videos is smooth. You can choose from 8GB, 16GB or 32GB of storage built-in for your music, movies and photos, but there's no option for a microSD memory card. Again, that's something most phones offer. Battery life is also disappointing.
The Sony Walkman Z offers impressive sound quality for the devoted music lover. But you have to be one serious audiophile to carry around this bulky device alongside your phone, which does all the same things and more, for less money.