Posted by: Douglas Macmillan on May 13, 2009
Sony introduced its first Walkman cassette player in 1979, and the world changed. People began walking city streets and riding buses sporting big, bombastic headphones and enjoying a personal, portable soundtrack for the first time. Vinyl gave way to tapes. Disco gave way to, well… 80s music.
Fast forward two decades to May 13, 2009, and the announcement of Sony’s new Walkman X-Series, a touch-screen device that plays audio and video, and surfs the Web. Never has the Sony story been so well epitomized by a single device: Once the pacesetter of portable audio, the Walkman is just another me-too in a market owned by Apple’s iPod.
This Walkman has nifty features, like the ability to quickly grab some 1,000 songs from Internet radio partner Slacker and temporarily store them in a partitioned memory – so you can take them on the subway or other places where there’s no wi-fi (a service that’s supported by audio ads). Its video player benefits from a sharp, 3” OLED screen, and has a gee-whiz menu which can pull out individual screen shots from a TV show or movie so you can skip ahead to a certain scene. And no doubt, the player is smaller and lighter (3.5 ounces) than an iPod Touch or iPhone.
Here’s a brief video overview I shot while I was fiddling with the Walkman X recently in Sony’s offices in New York.
I expect Sony will have a hard time selling potential buyers on these features at the price point it’s set. At $300 for a 16 GB and $400 for a 32 GB, the Walkman X-series costs exactly as much as an iPod Touch.
Let me say that again. The Walkman X costs the same price as Apple’s iPod Touch. And yet, iPods have a more robust Web browser, the ability to purchase new songs wirelessly, and a flourishing ecosystem of independent application developers that are dreaming up new uses for the device every day. Also worth noting, the iPod Touch line also includes an 8 GB model at $230 for more budget-minded consumers.
Like Microsoft and its Zune Pass, Sony is going to talk up the new Walkman’s cool integration with Slacker. But with such stiff competition, I think the company would have better luck in the category by inventing a different device altogether: a time machine.
These are only my first impressions of the Walkman X — I didn’t get to spend much time with it. Some time around its official launch in mid-June I hope to post a full review.