With the rise of smartphones and all the fancy stuff they can do, dedicated MP3 players have pretty much become a niche market. But what if you don’t own a smartphone, or you don’t like to play music from your phone as it drains your battery too fast?
While the iPod has become synonymous with MP3 players, many forget the humble beginnings of portable music and how the Sony Walkman made listening to music on the go possible. Sony recently announced the compact NWZ-E460 series of Walkman that comes in six colors (black, gold, red, blue, green, pink) and sports a 2-inch QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) LCD screen. We decided to give it a go to see how it would live up to the Walkman legacy.
The E460 is small and fits nicely into your pocket. While the player may not be as miniscule as the iPod Nano, it isn’t that huge either and feels pretty solid in our hands. We suppose it could take an accidental drop or two without going wonky on us. But be careful when you throw it into the bag with your keys, the plastic back may get scratched.
Some of you may not be fans of the original iPod’s click wheel or the touch interface of the iPod Touch, and prefer good, old-fashioned buttons and the E460 gives you just that. The E460 possesses a four-way click pad with a Play/Pause button in the middle, so don't be scrolling your thumb around the click pad by accident! While the 2-inch QVGA LCD screen may be too small to view videos comfortably, you won’t be straining your eyes too much to navigate the interface and listen to music. And as mentioned earlier, there are three configurations of the E460, based on memory capacity. In other words, there's no SD card slot for a quick memory upsize.
The E460 features one of the easiest ways to load music onto it: drag and drop. For those of you who find syncing with iTunes a chore, this is a most welcome feature. If you're already enslaved to iTunes, then you can just load your iTunes library (non-DRM tracks, of course) onto the player. But the bad news is, the player connects to your computer via a proprietary cable. Proprietary cables have always annoyed us; once you lose the cable, there’s no other way to get it replaced except by purchasing another one from the manufacturer. In the case of the E460, the cable is also used for charging the player.
To further differentiate from the competition, it offers some unique (to some, bizarre) features, such as Karaoke and SensMe. The former lowers the volume of the vocals so that you can sing along with the music through the pinhole microphone; the latter creates playlists based on tempo and mood of the tracks.
The E460’s bass is a little on the heavy side; and if you listen to rock or metal, the guitar distortion may cause the sound to come off as a little muddy. If you can look past the heavier low-end or don’t really listen to music that uses much guitar distortion, the E460’s sound quality is actually pretty good. For the most part, it sounded warm and laid back. There are four preset equalizer modes - Heavy, Pop, Jazz, and Unique - and two custom ones, with five frequency band adjustments (-3 to 3). There is also a Clear Bass setting that aims for a deeper bass, but with lesser distortion. Much of the E460's decent sonic performance can also be credited to the bundled MDR-EX083 in-ear headphones. In our trials, they did a good job isolating noise. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the fit of the earbuds.
The player boasts 50 hours of music playback (or 10 hours for video) on paper from its built-in lithium-ion battery, though we got slightly less than that when we gave it a spin for 46 hours straight. But we did use the player’s equalizer; without it, the E460 should last longer. For audio, it supports MP3, WMA, AAC-LC and linear PCM. There's no support for either FLAC or APE, so audiophiles looking for an audio player to go along with their portable headphone amplifier to form a high-end portable audio rig will have to look elsewhere. For video, it works with AVC/H.264, MPEG-4, WMV9, and AAC-LC video.
MP3 players still serve a market of users who don’t wish to be at the mercy of a single device, lest it fails and their life comes to a halt. With the NWZ-E460, you get a super portable MP3 player that sounds good and lasts pretty long before it runs out of juice. While it doesn't look as sleek as an iPod Touch (though that's entirely subjective) or support an app store, if all you're looking for is a good sounding music player, then the E460 gets our recommendation. The video and photo playback functionality and the built-in FM radio are just icings on the colorful cake.