A top media player from Sony but not necessarily its best value. (October 5th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Sony
Price: $150 (4GB), $180 (8GB)
- Attractive, well-built design.
- Simple but powerful interface in most areas.
- Outstanding battery life for music and video.
- Relatively good earbuds.
- Platform-independent; many apps, OSes work in some form.
- Podcast and SensMe are valuable new features.
- FM radio with more features than competitors.
- Still no fast scroll; same old Walkman interface.
- Noise canceling produces audible hiss and not always effective.
- Too expensive for the features versus the S630. - SensMe takes awhile to sync and is sometimes inaccurate.
After years of insisting on little-used proprietary formats and software, Sony has recently been mending its ways: the company's latest Walkman players have virtually become champions of cross-platform standards (including the Mac), beautiful design and the no-fuss interface. The S730 promises to be an evolution of an already solid formula, especially with its active noise cancelation feature, but it remains to be seen how well the S730 stacks up against the veteran iPod nano and Microsoft's latest Zune software.
design and control
Like it or not, Apple through its success with the iPod dictated the rules of the game for mid-range portable media players: these devices must be attractive and thin while still being at least reasonably easy to use.
The S730 (as well as the S630 and E430 below it) checks off these criteria fairly quickly and more effectively than the A820 it may well replace, though not perfectly. Sony's new design is the first to feel genuinely thin rather than just thin enough. It also clearly borrows from the Sony Ericsson playbook in looking and feeling well-built while using low-cost material: what appears to be brushed metal is actually plastic, but the Walkman never exhibits the hollow or loosely-assembled feel you would associate with the material. It's not quite as reassuring as the real aluminum of the iPod nano, but it's slightly more upscale than the boxy and somewhat simple-looking (if durable) Zune.
Actual controls are a subtle but welcome refresh of the A820 line. The directional pad now has much wider targets that are easier to navigate than the wafer-thin borders from the old model; the "back" and "option" buttons are likewise easier to hit casually than the slivers that were used before. Side-mounted volume controls are still present and still welcome, though there are times when the finer-grained control of the iPod's click wheel would be appreciated to adjust volume in finer steps than possible with a rocker switch.
Any problems with the layout are now more inherent quirks of Sony's original design choices than any particular mistakes with its most recent choices. Unlike the iPod's wheel or the Zune's hybrid click/touch pad, there's no quick way to scroll through a large song list other than by holding down a directional key. Sony has had to resort to software tricks to make song selection manageable, and one gets the distinct impression that any truly large-capacity Walkman would need a control overhaul. What makes the Walkman so simple and pleasant to use for a typical library could quickly become frustrating with a large collection.
There's also the minor but at times slightly irritating nature of the hold switch. Like earlier Walkman models, it sits on the middle of the player's side and isn't especially intuitive with the full-hand grip many are likely to use when they hold the device in their hands. Moving it closer to the top corner would be an easy and more logical move.