Sony's first wearable Walkman, the W Series NWZ-202 model, burst on to the PMP scene about a year ago, offering a true contender to the iPod shuffle but, for want of a better term, got lost in the shuffle amid the launch of the Sony Walkman X Series iPod touch-alike, which stole much of the attention.
The all-in-one device, with headphone controls, did prove popular as a sports headset, so Sony has returned in 2010 and tailored the device as such. The new W250 Series Walkman (we have the W252 2GB version, the 252 has 4GB) boasts a sweat and rain resistant rubber and plastic chassis, which can even be worn in the shower, if you like your post-workout rinse to have a soundtrack.
The first NWZ-202 boasted an innovative and lightweight design that packed Sony's fantastic Walkman tech into two earbuds separated by a short and sturdy cable, without burdening the wearer with a load that would weigh Dumbo down. That design remains much the same here and once it's on, at 43g it's so light and comfortable that it's easy to forget you're wearing it.
A lot of space is saved by the control system, which packs all of the functionality into just two buttons and a toggle switch. Sony has persisted with its pointless and rather confusing "Zappin" shuffle control interface. We fiddled with this for about 3 hours, but still couldn't figure out why it works in the way it works.
The theory is to allow listeners to scan through songs easily. Holding the play button for a short time prompts a "Zappin In" response in the sultry-tones of the Scandinavian host. That command fades in a 5 second portion of the song, and will move through that folder by playing a portion of the next song until you decide which one you want. That, to be fair, is a decent enough way of getting around the fact that there's no screen to select from.
If you prefer to listen to a different portion of the song, holding the button again will scan further by "Zappin Long" and then "Zappin Short". It seems completely superfluous. Once you're ready to pick that song, a single press of that play button will prompt the "Zappin Out" command and the track will commence from the beginning. Phew.
The toggle controls allow you to manually switch between the tracks and holding it to the left or right to switch between folders (or albums). The design has been slightly modified by moving the shuffle button to an easily accessible spot on the left bud, rather than a switch on the underside. This is an affordable Walkman, one of Sony's more reasonably priced products, but the controls do feel a little budget and we have to wonder how long they will last.
There's also no need for an on and off switch, as prizing the magnetised two components apart switches the device on, while closing them together (to form a lovely heart shape) switches the Walkman off. A great piece of functionality.
The control system really struggles against the iPod shuffle's simpler method, which also boasts the VoiceOver tech which tells you the name of the songs you're playing and your playlist, but it doesn't offer the same "Wireless" option or the audio quality of the W250.
Sound quality is, as always brilliant, with rich base and clear audio. It also goes very, very loud. The design is such that the buds sit deeply and securely in the ear, so that's great for use during a workout. The W250 allows no wind in to distort our listening pleasure, which is great, but it's also worth considering that blocking out all external noise isn't always the safest option when you're running the roads. Having the rain (Waterproof rating is IP5) and sweat proof casing is a nice comfort, now you know your sweaty swede wont fry your MP3 player.
Sony has also kept around the interestingly-shaped charging dock (with its reassuringly adhesive rubber grip underneath) which allows you to simply drag and drop your files onto the device from your computer and your iTunes. The 2GB model can hold around 500 MP3s and, naturally, 1000 on the 4GB model One of the most impressive features is that just three minutes plugged into the dock will give you 90 minutes worth of juice, which increases to 11 hours when fully charged. It's perfect for if you fancy an impromptu run but have no gas in the tank.
Copying files does take a little longer than we're accustomed to, with an album taking a couple of minutes, and if you want to separate albums, drag them in as separate folders rather than under one artist banner, as the Walkman doesn't distinguish between the two.
All in all, this is an extremely useful and convenient device for runners and gym rats as well as those who desire hands and cable-free tuneage.
The design, which comes in 4 sporty colours, is unique and won't give up on you, while the trademark audio quality of the Walkman series makes this one of the best value MP3 solutions. But that annoying "Zappin long" and "Zappin short" functionality, is rather unnecessary.