Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sony Walkman X Series. My Review Part Two.

I like to spend time with a new product before I get into a critical evaluation of it's features. I've had my X1051 for about two weeks now, and am only just starting to find it's secrets out. This is no simple device, although it may seem that way on the surface. Here are basic specs, borrowed from Sony's web site:

Dimensions: 2+1/8"(width) x 3+7/8"(height) x 13/32"(thickness)
Weight: 3.5 oz (99.2 grams)
Display: 3-inch(diagonal) OLED display. 262,144 colors @ 432 x 240 Pixels.
Audio: MP3/WMA/AAC(.mp4, .m4a, .3gp)/L-PCM(.wav),
Video: AVC(H.264/AVC)/MPEG-4(mp4, .m4v)/WMV DRM
Battery life: Potentially 33 hours music or 9 hours video.

Controls: Across the top edge you'll find a play/pause button along with track forward and back buttons. A volume rocker is along the side. Headphones also plug into the top which make this a very pocketable player. Also notice the finish. The pebbled look is also a pebbled texture. It make this Walkman easy to hold onto, but also almost rough to the touch.

Music: Limited CODEC support is my chief complaint. Why Sony didn't include FLAC or OGG is a mystery to me since they are both free (no, licensing required). The now-playing screen is full of information. You'll see the album art (although not full screen width), Song title, Artist, Album, play mode, and a position indicator all in a quick glance at the screen. Nice icons aside the items help distinguish them.

Across the bottom are four icons. The far left icon takes you back to your music list. The second is a magnifying glass icon that opens up a search category window when tapped. The third is a web connection view with Yahoo OneSearch and YouTube links you can tap on to find more information relating to the current playing song. The YouTube link, for example, brought me to several videos of Christina Aguilera when I'd been listening to one of her songs. The right most icon brings up a sub menu that includes Play Mode, Playback Range, Equalizer, VPT(surround), DSEE(enhancement), Clear Stereo, Dynamic Normalizer, and Detailed Information choices. That last option will show you the length, codec, bit rate, and file name of the current song. Music will continue to play after leaving the music app, so you can listen while perusing photos or the web. The OLED screen makes viewing whatever is on the screen very easy from any angle. A nice surprise compared to the LCD screens many other players use. The Music app is a pleasure to use on this Sony. It exploits album art with a choice of list or array views showing covers, and a flashy vertical 3D-ish album slide right from the Now Playing screen. Video: Two BIG strikes against video on this Sony are the limited codec support and limited resolution support. When something does play it looks great on the OLED screen. With a limit of 262,144 colors (compared to 16 million on the Cowon S9's AMOLED screen) you may see some blockiness depending on the video. The X1051 comes with three demo videos on board, each at 432 x 240 in WMV format. The user manual implies it will play videos up to 480 x 270, but of course the standard size (many other players support) is 480 x 272, or in other words two pixel rows beyond what the Sony plays. Speaking of the user manual (found on the included CD), it appears it was cut and pasted from Sony's other players as 320 x 240 pixels seems to be the best it can support in any other format. That just happens to be the resolution every previous Walkman's screen was limited to. I threw a 320 x 240 WMV file on and it did play. You can have the video stretch to fill the larger screen if you choose. No dropped frames. Audio stayed in-sync with the video. I have no doubt this Walkman is a competent video player, yet it's limited resolution support means a whole new round of down-conversion will be required if you own larger videos already. There are dozens of players out there with larger screens and better video playback, so I can't recommend this Sony if that's your major reason for purchasing one. Windows media player 11 managed to convert one of my larger WMV videos to a smaller resolution that does play on the X1051. It took 7 hours. Not good. The nicest feature in the video app is that it lets you delete (non-playable) videos from the player.

Photo: Here's another place where Sony seems to have gone only half-way. Photos will display on the screen, and apparently auto-rotate to best fit, then expand or shrink to bump the screen edge(s). You can easily flick between photos. No Zoom I could find. No manual rotating of images. No slide show feature I could find, although there may be one hidden in the settings. You can use a photo as a wallpaper for the home screen at least. Yes, this Sony will display your photos. They'll look great on the OLED screen as seen above. That's about it though. Podcast: This is one place the Sony excels. With WiFi connected, you can choose and subscribe to podcasts right on the player. Once subscribed to the player will download the latest episode for your listening pleasure. Not every podcast works, as I found one that refused to play, but when they do it is very, VERY convenient. I have several podcasts I listen to regularly, yet don't bother putting them on any other player. It requires first downloading them to my PC then copying them to the player. They are simply easier to listen to on my PC. I don't need my PC on to get updated podcasts uploaded to the Sony. The Sony manages podcasts on it's own and eliminates that PC step! One major thing it doesn't seem to manage is video podcasts. I've also had no luck figuring out how to add podcasts that aren't listed within the podcast web list. A search option would also help find podcasts you already know about.

Slacker: This player is limited to three slacker radio stations. You can change those stations from a free Slacker.com (basic) account you create on the web. Songs show up on the Walkman with cover art and extensive album/artist information. Updating the stations seems to take quite awhile though, so be patient. Another good use for WiFi on this Sony.

FM Radio: Yes. Nothing special though. You can change search sensitivity between high and low. The Walkman will auto-search for channels, and create a presets list. You can manually tune or change station via presets. The FM radio screen is very basic and efficient. Nothing flashy. Lastly, the FM radio will stop when you return to the home menu. No listening to radio while perusing photos or the web.

YouTube: The only hard thing about the YouTube app is entering your search word(s). Once you find a video to play just sit back and enjoy. Not every video looks great from YouTube, as many are lower resolution than the screen and look pixelated when played. The experience is not the same as on an iPod Touch or Phone. The Walkman's screen is smaller for one. The diversion factor compares well though and YouTube on this Sony is a great excuse for the WiFi.

WWW: The World Wide Web. The Internet. I don't know why Sony even bothered with the included web browser. A numeric keyboard is all you get to enter a web page, and if you don't add http: and //www. in front of the page name you're out of luck. I finally succeed in getting it to load http://www.google.com/ after a frustrating hour of reading the user manual and trying every trick I could think of. If you're used to send text messages from your cell phone's numeric keyboard then this shouldn't be foreign to you. If you've ever used the browser on an iPhone or iPod Touch then you'll be extremely frustrated using this Sony's browser. Forget trying to view a full web page. Mobile sites work reasonably well, but any normal web page will be lucky to render, and then quickly replaced by a white page or at best an ad from the site. You can't even choose a home page to appear when the browser opens. Don't buy this Walkman for it's web browser. You will be very disappointed. Noise Cancelling: This is a useful feature. It works only with the included earbuds. There is an on-off switch for noise cancelling on the side of the player. There is an icon/app dedicated to noise cancelling on the home menu. You can choose one of three environments (Bus/train, Airplane, or Office) for noise cancelling. Using the included external line-in cable this player can also serve as a noise cancelling pass-through for other devices. In the settings menu you can set the noise cancelling level to anywhere from -15 to +15, although I'm not sure what that scale relates to. With mine set to 9 and the switch ON while in Office mode, I find noise cancelling works almost perfectly. Where I sit typing this there is a cacophony of sounds. The PC's fan whirs. The keyboard clicks. My chair squeaks. The house air conditioner blows. The phone rings. Yet with noise cancelling in play I hear only my music. Sublime.

Extras: Better players always come with a few special features. Many have sleep timers and/or wake-to-music alarm functions. Often a couple games are included. I've seen calendars, world clocks, stop watches/timers, email clients, and more. What is stunning about this very expensive Walkman is that it comes with NO bonus features. Nada. Zip. Nothing. With this Walkman the main screen icons represent all there is.

Problems: There is audible static through the earbuds when the player uses WiFi. It seems like a hardware flaw. I can hear it using the Slacker app, and listening to music when I open the WWW browser app. It's not loud but is something Sony needs to fix, hopefully with a firmware update. Lasty, this player need a QWERTY keyboard! Even a poor implementation of a touchscreen keyboard would be better than the pitiful number pad they included. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!Conclusion: It's a great music player. Your music listening experience can't get much better than this. If you enjoy podcasts on-the-go then you NEED this player. Looking for a pocket video player? Skip this one. Need a PDA? This isn't it. Wishing for some games? Keep wishing. I'm conflicted by this widescreen Walkman. It has a couple of capabilites that no other player I have has. It costs more than an ipod Touch. Is it worth more? No. Too much missing.



  1. ok well it is good but why do you blog

  2. As an educator by profession, I'm the type who enjoys spreading what I know. This blog gets about 5000 hits a month and that's far more people than I would normally bump into. They also normally come here because they want to know more about what I've personally reviewed. Seems to be a perfect relationship.


  3. Thanks for the write up! I'm currently looking for the very best sounding DAP wo/ regard to anything else.

    Just trying to decide between this and the Cowon.

  4. Very well said 4DThinker. I don't know what made me come across this blog but I'm really enjoying it.


  5. Glad you like it, Yonas. Thanks.