We've had the good fortune of putting a Sony NWZ-A829 through its paces over the last few days. Remember, that's Sony's top of the line, 2.4-inch, QVGA Walkman with stereo Bluetooth A2DP and 16GB of flash. With Sony CEO, Howard Stringer, ceding portable audio victory to Apple, we had high hopes for the NWZ-A829 as an out of the box video player. After all, Howie said 9 months ago, "We have worked very hard to catch up so that in the age of video we will not suffer as much as we did in audio." So how did it do? See our take after the break.
Update: We finally made it through a single battery charge (it's that good). Ours lasted 24 hours and 15 minutes under a constant load of about 1 hour of video, 4 hours of Bluetooth-enabled audio, and then another 19 hours of tethered audio.
The included 13.5mm EX headphones are without a doubt some of the best, in-box buds you'll find. They perform equally well under the throaty, soulful, strain of Amy Winehouse (even at low volumes) or the high-pitched wail of the ambulance sent to collect her. Better yet, they make you look down-right cybernetic. The adjustable silicon ear inserts (S, M, L) are ridiculously comfortable even when worn for hours at a time.
As good as the buds are, we can't help but wonder where the bundled Bluetooth adapter is. After all, one of the biggest selling points of the DAP is its support of A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles. They could have bundled a basic Bluetooth headphone adapter (think, G-sat BTH-820) for the wired headphones without noticeably increasing the price tag.
On the subject of Bluetooth... well, the NWZ-A829's got it (for what that's worth). We paired the Walkman with a G-sat BTH-820 Bluetooth headphone adapter and EX headphones and began listening to music immediately. A dedicated Bluetooth button initiates and severs the headset bond -- a welcome, battery saving touch indeed. Now the rub: the compressed Bluetooth audio mucks up the experience. Especially after listening to the in-line buds. Of course, this is the performance we expected -- compressed MP3 audio compressed even further by the A2DP Bluetooth profile will never sound great.
The look? Busy. For a modern flash player it has lots of buttons: power / option, home / back, Bluetooth, hold, a volume rocker, and 4-position navigation pad. Still, it's not busy bad, rather, it's busy high tech which to us is a good thing. Honestly, having used iPods extensively since generation one, the buttons on the Walkman feel damn-near revolutionary. Especially that beefy volume rocker and easy throwing hold switch. We just wonder how long Sony can hold out in the face of a relentless, "touch" campaign raging against tactility.
Rejoice! Gone are the days of SonicStage and ATRAC. Now, Sony bundles Media Manager for Walkman (Windows only) and an ATRAC to MP3 "Convertion" Tool right on the CD. Unfortunately, these are only supported under Microsoft OSes. Having said that, OS X Leopard recognized the player just fine when we attached it over USB. Everything was laid out in neatly defined folders for music, photos, video, etc. Fine if you want to manage all your digital content yourself and don't want to bother with custom playlists or other niceties.
Now the moment of truth: video. So we dragged a couple of videos into the Walkman Media Manager. We figured they would get sucked over to the Walkman or at worst, be converted into the MPEG-4/H.264 format the player recognizes. Nope. Oh Media Manager could do it, but you have to pay extra to turn it on. Like the Bluetooth headphones, there's added cost for functionality which should exist in the box. After all, Sony's not a market leader, they're playing catch up here. It's especially annoying when Media Manager plays the files but frustratingly (to the average user) will not transfer them. Instead, Joe User receives a message saying the file is "not compatible." So he buys the $12.95 Media Manager Pro for Walkman upgrade (via the always visible "Go Pro" tab) and grumbles to his friends about how lame Sony is.
Once we had the video transfered it looked great... or at least as good as it gets on a 2.4-inch QVGA display.
All in all we like, but don't love our Walkman NWZ-A829. There's nothing particularly innovative here but it's definitely a high-quality player which should treat Windows users especially well over its lifetime. It's just not any better than similar flash offerings with sub-3-inch displays from SanDisk, Creative, Microsoft, iriver, Apple or Samsung. It's certainly not the video Walkman we hoped to be wowed by. Then again, Sony is probably better off pushing its PSP (with 4.3-inch display) for portable video than this tiny Walkman. And while Bluetooth stereo audio has its niche, we're certainly not going to plunk down an extra $100 (starting price) for a lesser-quality, Sony Bluetooth headset when such high quality buds are included in the $320 MSRP.
P.S. If there's anything else you want to know (we're still testing the battery) just call it out in the comments.