Sony's iconic Walkman player has always been a pioneer for personal music players. The original cassette player was a revolution and its Discman personal CD players continued the tradition with market-leading sound. The next generation is represented by the Sony Z-Series Walkman with Android.
The device has been out in Japan for a while and was confirmed for the US and Europe at CES 2012, where we were able to go hands-on with the Z-Series Walkman with Android.
Sony Z-Series Walkman with Android: Build
The first thing we noticed about this device was the sheer size of it. Sony has opted for a hand-filling 4.3-inch display, compared to the 3.5-inch display on the iPod touch. Sony's thinking behind this is to enhance the video viewing experience and allow users to get the best from games on the Android Market.
The device also feels very thin at 11.1 inches and weighs-in at just 156g giving it a very light feel. The back of the device is curved inwards at the middle to ensure it fits nicely in the hand, while the external speakers are also nestled on the rear.
A new addition to the Walkman range is the 'W' button on the side of the device, which summons a condensed version of the music player, wherever you may be on the device, even if the display is sleeping. It's a neat, easily accessible addition if you want to skip tracks. There's also a HDMI port and volume keys on the right of the device.
At the foot is a proprietary charging port and the headphone jack. Was it too much to ask that Sony offer microUSB charging? Apparently so. Also missing are cameras as Sony looks to cement this device as a Walkman first and foremost, rather than just a smartphone without the phone part.
Overall the Walkman felt good in the hands, as a real premium feel to it and was easy to operate via the soft keys near the base of the Z-Series.
Sony Z-Series Walkman with Android: Features
Naturally, the big news here is the inclusion of Android on a Walkman for the first time. The Z-Series carries Android 2.3 Gingerbread rather then the latest 4.0 version and for the most part this remains a largely organic implementation of Google's Mobile OS.
The ability to access the Android Market makes this by far the most functional Walkman ever, with access to every app the store has to offer, while also bringing the music downloads and movie rental portals. On top of that, there's also an FM radio, email, web browsing and everything you'd expect for an Android device, including GPS. The functionality clearly identifies the Z-Series as an Android answer to the iPod touch.
The menus boast the generic Android look, feel and UI, while Sony has resisted the temptation to shove a custom UI onto the Z-Series. The media players are distinctly Sony, however, dwarfing the functionality of most Android smartphones with a host of customisable options including an impressively-stocked graphic equaliser and the opportunity to create SenseMe smart playlists to fit your mood.
There's also access to Sony's Music Unlimited service, which allows you to subscribe for a Spotfiy-like experience for a monthly fee, however that's available on all Android phones and is nothing new.
Sony is also pretty pleased with its new AirPlay rival which allows the DLNA-enabled Z-Series the send content to HDTVs and other screens over Wi-Fi. Like AirPlay, it's pretty seamless and allows you to continue watching or listening on other devices with one touch of a button on compatible devices.
Sony Z-Series Walkman with Android: Screen
Despite the added bonus of the 4.3-inch WQVGA, 800x480 display, video playback isn't as impressive as we'd hoped. Firstly the screen seems to suffer from a lack of brightness, with everything appearing to be quite dim. Despite promising to bring full HD playback, the crispness of video is nowhere nears as good as the Retina Display on the iPod touch.
We've no complaints about the touchscreen. It responded to our commands well, although fingerprints proved difficult to shift when we were trying to snap pictures of the Z-Series.
Sony Z1000 Walkman with Android: Performance
The sound quality of Sony's MP3 players has never been in question. They're outstanding and the Z-Series Walkman is naturally the best sounding Android device ever created and arguably, on first listen, up there with the Apple iPod touch, which has long been heralded for its impressive sound.
The S-Master MX technology brings noise cancelling technology into play, which proved pretty effective during our brief test of the device and the impressive range of audio options trumps every other Android device on the Market.
Elsewhere on the device the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, which Sony says is "tablet quality", keeps things ticking over at a really fast pace. There was no lag opening apps and photos, videos and webpages rendered swiftly.
Sony promises 20 hours of music, but just five hours of video from the battery.
Sony Z-Series Walkman with Android: Verdict
It's beyond question that this is the best sounding Android device it has ever created. Sony has worked hard on this device to bring its trademark audio performance that just isn't quite there on its range of Xperia smartphones. Adding Android into the mix is a smart decision which has the potential for Sony to resurrect its iconic brand for those seeking more than just a PMP.
Across the board, it's more expensive than the iPod touch, while appealing to the same target audience. It's a perfect device for those Android fans who also want a top notch music player.
Sony Z-Series Walkman with Android price and availability: The 32GB iteration of the device will cost £299.99, which is £50 more expensive than the iPod touch and will be available in late February.