Sony tries its hand at touchscreen players and mostly succeeds. (July 19th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Sony
Price: $299 (16GB), $399 (32GB)
- Smart ergonomics; good hardware controls.
- Beautiful OLED display.
- Good interfaces for music, photos and video.
- On-device podcast subscriptions.
- Long battery life.
- Slacker and FM radio built-in.
- Terrible web browser; so-so YouTube client.
- Limited Internet apps and no 3rd-party apps.
- Slow sync process.
- SenseMe, audiobooks and other features absent.
music and earbud quality
Ever since it committed to producing modern media players, Sony has typically had a knack for at least producing a solid music navigation interface, and in the X1000 that skill has successfully made the leap to the world of touch. The menu system is relatively unintrusive and makes use of natural, acceleration-based flicks to pick individual items. All of the advanced navigation features, such as picking by album or by playlist, are tucked into a single menu rather than occupy large amounts of permanent screen area. It's quick to find what you want, and it even allows navigation that's usually off limits on some of the easier browsers, such as by folder or the album's release year. iPod owners would be pleasantly surprised at how easily they could transition to the interface.
That extends to podcasts. While Sony is no longer new to the table with downloading podcasts directly to the player, it's still fairly unique in its support for subscribing to podcasts over RSS and letting owners download new episodes without having to connect to a computer. In fact, it's intelligent enough to recognize podcasts in RSS feeds on the web and so could be a powerful tool for regular podcast listeners. We'd advise against using Sony's official link to podcast.com nonetheless; it's good for an introduction to podcasts, but the number of titles is threadbare compared to iTunes or other aggregators.
Having mostly praised the Walkman so far, the music features aren't as in depth in other aspects. For reasons unknown, the X1000 doesn't have the SenseMe feature of lesser Walkman players, so automatic playlists of similarly themed songs (a la Genius playlists) aren't an option. A capable FM radio tuner is onboard, but there's still no support for audiobooks through Audible or other formats. Sony's device is still focused almost exclusively on regular music, and it suffers from its limits even as much as it thrives.
In keeping with the company's usual habits with high-end players, the X1000 comes bundled with a pair of high-end earbuds. The in-ear (but not in-canal) set that comes with this player lives up to expectations, though in an unusual way: while the sound is good with fairly detailed highs and sufficiently deep bass, their size and shape creates an odd sensation that they're about to fall out of one's ear, but never do. The fit can of course vary from ear to ear, but we suspect that if anyone will buy a replacement set of earbuds, it will be for comfort's sake more than quality.
Noise canceling also makes its way into the jukebox and appears to be significantly improved over what we saw in the S730. Where that previous device's noise reduction was somewhat ineffective, here it's more noticeable. Flicking the "NC" switch eerily renders the outside world almost completely silent. There's still a background hiss, but only when audio is paused or the music is particularly quiet. In-canal earbuds that physically block out sound are still the best solution, but we'll take this approach without much reservation.
photos, video and the OLED display
Touch is a big help to Sony as it forces the company to drop the somewhat awkward controls it used for photos and video in the past. Again, iPod touch owners will find it somewhat familiar, but not quite: flick-based lists and overlay play/scrub controls persist, but the same minimalist attitude to music that hides the more complex options away in menus exists in both areas. It's not more difficult than on an iPod, a YP-P3, or a similar device; it's just a different metaphor that takes time to master.
Image quality is unambiguously in Sony's favor through one key factor: its OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display. The technology builds its illumination into the pixels themselves instead of using a backlight; combined with better overall color, usually produces a much better picture than an LCD with true blacks and very good contrast. At times, the effect can be dramatic: dark scenes become especially vivid, and even well-lit footage has bold colors, especially in dimmer lighting. If you can create or find video suited to the Walkman -- Amazon Video on Demand's protected WMV, for example, or a conversion of a video you own -- you could well have one of the best possible handheld video experiences on Sony's hardware.
The one catch we've seen is outdoor viewability. We haven't encountered many troubles ourselves, but OLEDs are known to suffer from legibility in bright sunlight. If you're regularly checking your music in the sun, you may want to pass on the X1000 for an LCD-equipped rival.