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Dublin: 19.12.2014 08.11PM
Sony is attempting to repopularise its famous Walkman brand with a range of media players taking up the moniker, while its music-streaming service, Music Unlimited, is vying for the music streaming throne – but can either compete in the tough music product market?
Sony’s F800 Walkman series operates on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and comes in three storage variants: the 8GB F804, 16GB F805, and 32GB F806. Planting myself firmly in the middle with the F805, I took the 21st-century take on the Walkman for a test drive.
The F805 is a media player first and foremost, but the Android platform opens up a world of apps so this device can do more, letting users play games, check their email, organise their calendars, whatever they choose – as long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection available. It’s also got built-in GPS, so users can make use of navigation and mapping apps.
With its defined, sharp corners and slim design, the F805 is an unmistakable Sony creation, its design falling in line with that of the Xperia range of smartphones. The 3.5-inch multi-touch display is fairly narrow, so watching video or even typing on the keyboard is not optimal on this device – but the upside is it fits neatly into your pocket.
As far as audio playback goes, the sound from the F805 is clear and strong, just as you would expect from Sony. Listening through the headphones is the best way to experience music on the device, but the built-in xLOUD speaker system makes for decent sound, too.
Audio technologies optimise the sound with a built-in equaliser, presets for different genres, and a normaliser that minimises jumps in volume from song to song, ensuring a consistent and pleasant listening experience. I was also happy to see that the F805 supports FLAC files, which I’m sure will be music to audiophiles’ ears.
Powered by a Tegra 2 dual-core processor, the device’s performance holds up well, and the battery will last as long as you don’t watch too much video, which will drain it fast.
While using the Walkman F805, I also availed of Music Unlimited, Sony’s music-streaming service. New users can give it a go with a free trial, and when this expires the subscription offers are a basic service for €3.99 a month or the premium package for €9.99 a month.
Among other things, Premium users will be able to search for and play any song in the 15m-strong catalogue, create playlists and add songs or albums to their personal collections for offline listening. Basic users’ listening is subject to the whim of a selection of music channels, though they can also create custom channels based on artists they like and import their own music to the service.
Channels are based on things like genre, era, or charts, such as global and local top 100s. For someone with an eclectic music taste who is interested in discovering something new, these options can be limiting, though there are channels in the SensMe section offering a bit more variety as these are categorised by feelings such as energetic, mellow, or upbeat.
The idea is that Music Unlimited will learn more as you listen in order to better cater to your taste and make recommendations. Users can like and dislike songs in channels to let the service know when it gets it right or wrong.
As far as searching the catalogue goes, it can be hit and miss sometimes. I found plenty of Lykke Li, but very little from Talking Heads. And despite having channels dedicated to songs from the Fifties and Sixties, specific searches for songs and artists from these decades often came up short.
The interface seems easy to use at first but I was soon frustrated by things like unintentionally jumping out of playback of a song when browsing, syncing issues, and not being given any indication whether songs were successfully added to my playlists or not (which they often weren’t).
Despite its clear sound and pleasing file support, it’s hard not to think that there’s something missing with the F805 – particularly at a price point of €249. There’s no capacity for added storage and a fourth-generation iPod touch would cost less with a screen resolution of 960 x 640 to the F805’s 800 x 480.
And while I’m sure frequent use of Music Unlimited would mean I’d eventually get around its user experience ‘quirks’, something I probably wouldn’t get used to is the low bit-rate streaming. It seems a shame to have had the F805, a device capable of delivering high-quality sound, playing back songs from Sony’s own music service in this way.