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.
Sony has spent much of the past few years regaining ground it lost from its one-time dominance of portable audio. The latest wave of this involves touchscreen players: nearly a year and a half after the iPod touch, the first touchscreen Walkman has arrived. In the X1000 series, Sony is not only looking to compete with the best touchscreen players but to overcome these competitors' mistakes. We hope to find out not only whether or not it's a worthwhile contender but whether it's necessarily taking the same path as its most obvious rivals.
design and the control scheme
It's clear from the start that the X1000 isn't trying to be all things to all people just through its size. It's noticeably smaller than an iPod touch and closer in stature to a Samsung YP-P3 or other player focused solely on media playback. The player feels great in the hand as a whole.
A number of thoughtful touches show that Sony has been listening, however. In an example of perhaps the most unusual choice of materials we've ever seen in an MP3 player, the new Walkman's sides are covered in a hard, rock-like surface; it's very nearly like holding granite in your hands. As odd as the texture may be, though, it's exceptional for maintaining grip -- a chronic problem of these increasingly thin devices. We can't quite say the same for the front and back, though. The glossy, smooth faces of the player pick up a large number of fingerprints and smudges quite quickly and need frequent cleaning to stay reasonably clean.
It's in the controls that the X1000 shows Sony's determination to solve the control problems of touchscreen players, and the company manages this surprisingly well. Where Apple and others deliberately leave most controls off of the outside for aesthetic or design reasons, the Walkman has its most essential controls (including noise canceling) accessible without touch. We particular enjoyed the play/pause and skip buttons on the top of the player; you now no longer have to fish the player out of a pocket or invest in an in-line headphone remote to move on to a more interesting song. More companies should consider following this approach, although confusingly the hold switch defaults to disabling even these controls as well; you can tell it to only disable the touch display, but you shouldn't have to.
Naturally, the touchscreen itself is important, and it's a slightly mixed bag. The screen appears to be capacitive, or to react simply to contact with fingers, and is much easier to use than the pressure-based screens that have been used on many of these devices in the past. Understandably, the screen doesn't support multi-touch gestures but is sensitive enough to react to swiping through music lists or photos.
It could stand to be more sensitive, however, as contact needs to be more definitive than the gentle input the iPod can get away with in most instances. And the smaller 3-inch display area also comes with a smaller resolution: the 432x240 image is a noticeable step down from the 480x320 that has shown up on a number of devices and renders the Walkman decidedly less useful for web browsing or other tasks where screen real estate is especially important.