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.
Thankfully, Sony is keeping to its recent policy of remaining mostly platform-agnostic. The company understandably favors Windows but doesn't attempt to lock Walkman owners into running any one particular program to sync media with the device. Windows Media Player is the company's preferred choice and what was used here for the Windows side of testing, but WinAmp and a number of other programs will also find the S730 and offer to load content themselves. Only Windows Media is supported for protected songs, but this includes most subscriptions.
Importantly, the player mounts as removable storage in just about any operating system, including Mac OS X, and will recognize any playable formats of files dragged into clearly labeled folders. Copying an album to the music folder will automatically grab the tags from each song without having to search the player itself. Virtually the only pain is that the Walkman insists on re-mounting itself on Mac systems even when it's told to eject, though there was never trouble just disconnecting it from the USB port after the initial eject command.
Podcasts and non-standard syncs are handled brilliantly by Sony without having to create its own software. Understanding that some users will be running iTunes, the company includes a basic Windows utility known as Content Transfer that handles drag-and-drop loading of valid content not just from the hard drive but also from Apple's jukebox. It not only recognizes music but specifically filters podcasts into their dedicated section on the player without any direct intervention. Users can't sync things back to the PC, such as play counts or bookmarked positions in podcasts, but it's an elegant alternative for owners who like the manual control of drag-and-drop without the hassle.
Ever since Sony made its full leap into digital-only portable media players in 2006, the company has widely been regarded as tops in its class for battery life, and the S730 only serves to reinforce that opinion. At a rated 40 hours of battery life for music, the tiny Walkman has a full 16 hours more of playback than the iPod nano's official time and even extends past the 36 hours of a big player such as the 120GB iPod classic.
This actually proves problematic for testing purposes -- in a good way -- though the claims appear accurate in preliminary testing. It took nearly eight hours of playback, even with noise canceling turned on, to bring the device to showing less than a full gauge; we've also tried leaving the player inactive for a day and saw no noticeable change in the amount of battery remaining where many players quickly "bleed" as their smaller charges and wasted power often chew away at the usable time. Combine this with a maximum 10 hours of video and it's hard not to see the appeal of an S730 for a cross-ocean flight or weekend camping trip where a charger might not be an option.