It's sleek. Awfully sleek. Make that sleek with a mouthful of drool. Sony has done it again. The new Sony Walkman NW-A1000 is so sexy that it's managed to make the iPod look positively prudish. We want to shower kudos on Sony for having the guts and the pizzazz to recreate its flagship Walkman. It's tough on all those designers, considering that each new player has to look radically different from the rest, such as the Bean, the NW-HD5, and the VAIO Pocket. In a cutthroat marketplace that is not unlike the mobile phones', pulling up your design socks is tantamount to preventing your toes from getting flattened by the competition. On the flip side, Sony's constantly morphing designs could be saying something else: that the Japanese firm has not yet concocted the magic bullet to take out the iPod.
The 109-gram Sony NW-A1000 is decidedly stylish, and we are not just paying lip service. Sony has borrowed design elements from the flash-based NW-500 series with the OLED screen hidden within a full plastic faceplate. The latter, by the way, is so smoothly integrated into the design that it looks as if the player was poured into it. However, do note that the raised curvature of the front faceplate is a red carpet for fingerprints. We're surprised that Sony did not include a carrying pouch. The A1000 certainly feels substantial with its metallic facade adding a reassuring heft. Along with its curvy form factor, the A1000 feels very good in hand, actually miles better than the rectangular iPod Nano. Navigation and player controls (a quad-directional joypad, an Option button, and a Back key) are centered on the lower part of the front face. The joypad was a bit too small for our liking and certainly not a joy for fat fingers unless the plumb digit decided to do the pokey with nails. The even tinier Back and Option buttons seem to suggest the designers sacrificed too much to aesthetics, though the saving grace is that tactile feedback is solid enough to make the miniaturization a minor annoyance.
The Option button opens up a contextual menu that's relevant to the active function. It's pretty detailed, with a variety of options such as Play Mode, Bookmarks, and Ratings, though it's odd that Sony neglected to include equalizer controls. The Back button is pretty self-explanatory: It returns to the previous menu, and by when pressed down and held, it reverts to the main menu. The hold function is activated via pressing a metallic key on the unit's top. There's also a slide switch on the side for volume control. Sony has added a glasslike Link button that lights up with squiggly orange lines when pressed--more on what it does in the Features section. Interestingly, Sony has abandoned the gimmicky screen-orientation mode found in the NW-HD5. We don't miss it. Taking a cue from its mobile phone division, the main menu for the A1000 uses an icon-based GUI. It's easy enough to understand and unlikely to get bogged down by Creative's patent.
The OLED is plenty bright--indoors. Once sunshine comes into the picture, it will be a miracle if you can detect even a pixel. Sony has also decided to stick to a proprietary cable for connectivity, so it will be something extra to carry around if your music collection is located in two different computers. The battery is removable on this player, though we would suggest bringing it down to the service center for swapping; we had a difficult time trying to open up the back plate with a pair of tweezers, and the user manual wasn't too helpful, either. As with Sony's hard-drive MP3 players, the Japanese firm did not see fit to include additional functions such as radio and recording. Instead, Sony has concentrated on enhancing the user's listening experience, including its standard preset EQ settings--Heavy, Pop, Jazz, and Unique--as well as two user-defined six-band EQs. We felt that the basic delivery is good enough without resorting to tweaking. However, if adjustments are unavoidable, we suggest fiddling around with the user-defined ones rather than the presets.