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.
Internet features: the web, YouTube and Wi-Fi
The only area where Sony truly flounders is in Internet features, and unfortunately it does so in spectacular fashion. Your first clue something's amiss is in how it connects to Wi-Fi, which is needlessly redundant. Although it's fairly straightforward to add a Wi-Fi connection, Sony's interface bafflingly asks you which network to connect to every time you use an Internet feature after waking the player, even when you've already set a preferred network. There's no automatic detection or prompting as you roam to different areas. These by themselves aren't fatal but are ultimately harbingers of the problems to come once you're online.
By far the most troublesome part of the player is its web access: simply put, it's near-unusable. Instead of choosing a full HTML browser to take advantage of the more advanced display, Sony has chosen to borrow the same Access NetFront browser it uses on even its lower-end Sony Ericsson smartphones. It doesn't work. Nearly every regular website either doesn't render properly or produces errors that prevent it from loading at all. Electronista's home page is one (but not the only) example of this last flaw. There's also no recognition of double-taps or dynamic zoom, so on many pages your choice is either to see a too-small site overview or to scroll left to right as well as up and down.
A poor text input system only compounds the situation. Likely the result of the smaller display, Sony has passed on a QWERTY keyboard in favor of a phone-style number pad. Not only does this slow things down, forcing you to tap a key multiple times to get the intended character, but it has quirks that aren't even seen on other devices that share this control method. You can't simply enter a character and wait to enter another one if you're going to hit the same key; you have to move the cursor ahead yourself.
Moreover, while word prediction is built-in, the browser isn't smart enough to include "http://" when typing a web address and has no accelerometer to auto-rotate the display to landscape mode. Unless your web only involves basic WAP-oriented pages or logging in at coffee shops to use YouTube, the browser feels like a superflous feature in its current form.
The YouTube client itself is more functional and is for all intents and purposes an online version of the X1000's video browser. However, it's now trailing slightly behind. Featured, top-rated and searchable videos are present, but without a sign-in there's no way to check subscriptions or your own videos. While generally well-executed, YouTube here isn't so compelling that we'd use it regularly, especially given that the same text entry interface from the web is also used here.
In the US, the Walkman has a Slacker radio client for streaming Internet music. Anyone who has tried Slacker on another platform will be at home with the interface and features, and unlike services like Last.fm or Pandora, caches well in advance so stations can be used beyond the range of a Wi-Fi hotspot. It's a rarity among most media players, though we'd add that the iPod touch has not only a Slacker app but its choice of several different competitors. Also, Canadians, Europeans and those outside of the US won't have Slacker at all.
Sony redeems its weaknesses online somewhat through impressive battery life. Officially, it lasts for 33 hours of continuous music or 9 hours of non-stop video. We didn't have time to test the video claim, but in audio we came only half an hour short. The runtime was such that running the battery dry in one day was nearly impossible in real-world use. It would very likely take 3 to 4 days of very frequent use to bring the X1000 to its breaking point. We can't say that for most other players of any kind, let alone a touchscreen device with Wi-Fi.
As is common now that Sony has dropped its insistence on proprietary software, loading the X1000 with content is relatively easy and has more than its fair share of choices. At a basic level, it works as a drag-and-drop device on any Mac, Windows PC or even Linux PC; just copy files into the appropriate folders and the Walkman finds them the next time you enter the appropriate menu. Windows users do get more than one option, though, and can either use a companion app that will grab music from iTunes to load into the device or else of using a player that can recognize generic media devices, like Windows Media Player or WinAmp.
One caution: with a large amount of music, the sync process is slow. Despite using a fully powered USB 2.0 port, it took us about 4 hours to fill two thirds of the 32GB model's capacity. We know that the iPod touch and iPhone are faster, and there doesn't seem to be a good excuse.