Bearing a very similar silhouette to the now defunct Rio Carbon MP3 player is the latest Sony NW-A1000 Walkman, which Sony claims will reinvent the way people to listen to music. Though nearly identical to the Rio Carbon in terms of shape and feel, the NW-A1000 just slightly edges ahead in build quality and 'cool' factor, for which the latter is a result of the frameless OEL (Organic Electroluminescence) panel slotted just under the skin of the display window. While this does provide a sleek appearance, the unfortunate downside is that fingerprints and smudges would accumulate in no time at all. Other than this, the all-round seamless and appealing design is again typical of Sony's design department.
If Looks Can Kill...
To maintain the uniformity of the seamless design, all buttons on the Walkman are color toned to match the body of the NW-A1000, which is also available in blue, pink and silver. The larger 20GB capacity NW-A3000 on the other hand is only available in violet and silver. Save for the exception of the "back" button that posed a minor usability issue due to its recessed, concave shape, the mechanical control system of the NW-A1000 was generally easy to use. This superb usability has also been extended to the icon-based menu navigation system where the implementation was by far the best we have seen so far in terms of layout and user-friendliness.
Software Could Be Better
Still fresh from the whole "rootkit" fiasco that resulted in Sony facing flak from all directions, there was an inevitable air of anxiety and cynicism lingering with the installation of the software bundled with the NW-A1000 Walkman. You see, the Sony CONNECT software must be installed in order to populate the 6GB Walkman with digital music.
Although there was no hiccup throughout the installation process, the software was unfortunately slow in converting tracks from CD to Sony's proprietary ATRAC file system. Needless to say, conversion of any sort (not just limited to Sony) and having to use software to upload songs into any MP3 player will, in our opinion, dampen the whole experience of the product. Despite these inconveniences, credit has to be given to Sony for ensuring minimal learning effort required from users.
Thumbs Up For Audio Quality
Beyond the software issue, it must be said that the audio quality of the NW-A1000 is superb. As with its design, audio reproduction was just as expected of Walkman caliber products. Mid-range sounded comfortably warm and high frequencies were clearly pushed through the bundled pair of earphones, which were a welcomed change from manufacturers' usual practice of bundling budget and unpleasant earphones with their otherwise perfectly decent audio products. Bass notes were distinct and had enough richness to earn the nods of those into rap, hip-hop and trance music genres. Sadly, battery life was only average, which lasted just 13 hours.
A Deserving Walkman Indeed
With the NW-A1000, Sony has produced an audio player that is well worthy of the Walkman badge. Not only will it go down well with the style conscious, even general consumers will also be swayed over by its audio excellence. Typical of Sony yet again, the price that the NW-A1000 Walkman is also at a premium, which at US$249, is comparatively more than the equivalent from Apple and Creative. But then again, you are getting more than just an MP3 player; you are getting the whole Walkman bloodline with the NW-A1000.