Sony – Walkman NWZ-A845 16GB review

slinky music player that is a mere 7.2mm thick
Photo of Sony – Walkman NWZ-A845 16GB
£139

Sony has created four distinct families of Walkman MP3 players that appear as though they have been designed to plug into the tiny gaps in Apple’s product range between the all-conquering iPod Touch, Nano and Shuffle.

The Walkman B and W players are small and compact models with a basic display and a low price that positions them as an alternative to the budget iPod Shuffle. Further up the tree we have the Walkman E series which comes in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB versions and has a 2-inch screen with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels.

Sony describes its A series of Walkman as a premium portable music player. There’s just the one model in the A range which is the A845 that comes with a storage capacity of 16GB. The manufacturer’s price of £149 is regularly discounted to £139 on the web which makes it cheaper than a comparable iPod Nano.

Generally speaking we are clear what Sony means when it talks about a premium product as most of its cameras, laptops and TV have gorgeous styling and carry a scary price. Things are less clear when we examine the Walkman A845 as it looks very similar to the E455 with a screen that has been increased in size to 2.8 inches on the diagonal and a higher 400 x 240 resolution. That’s not a patch on the iPod Touch which has a 3.5-inch screen and a massive resolution of 960 x 640 which delivers six times as many pixels as the A845.

This puts Sony in a bind as one of the features of the A845 is that it measures a mere 7.2mm thick, which is exactly the same as the new iPod Touch. Realistically there is no way that Sony can win a straight fight with the iPod Touch as the hardware is formidable and the power of the iTunes Store is epic. Instead Sony has taken a sideways step and has delivered a small MP3 player that is focussed on playing music with a small order of video and photo support on the side, all wrapped up in a reasonably low price.

The upshot is that the A845 has tiny dimensions of 105 x 47 x 7mm and the 2.8-inch screen uses OLED technology, however there is something unusual going on as there are hardware control buttons below the screen. These days it’s rare to come across a consumer device that touts itself as high end that doesn’t have touch screen functions and we did indeed find ourselves stabbing away at the icons for music and videos until we remembered to use the navigation pad.

At first we thought this might be a problem so we passed the Sony to a 12-year-old member of the family who is obsessed by touch screen mobile phones and the A845 passed muster with that particular consumer.

We were thrown when it came to loading the A845 with media as the manual says that the player comes with Sony Content Transfer software stored in the memory. We looked and we failed to find. It was clear that our sample of the A845 had been previously used so there was the possibility that the software had been deleted so we headed off to Sony’s website and found that version 1.3 of the software was available for download.

Content Transfer tells you how much of the storage on the A845 has been used for music, videos and photos and how much is free for use. To add media you simply drag and drop the files from Windows Explorer into Content Transfer and the software sorts out the messy business of file conversion.
Sony supports a tiny handful of file formats that consists of MP3, MP4, WMA and WMV for music, MP4 and WMV for movies and JPG for photos.

That may well be a deal breaker for anyone who prefers Ogg Vorbis or FLAC but we have a huge array of MP3 music and were reasonably happy. When it came to video we found that MKV files would not transfer to the A845, however AVI and MPG files were fine. On the photo front we found that some JPGs transferred correctly while others did not and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the process.

The conversion and transfer process doesn’t take too long, however we were unhappy to see that Sony has used a proprietary cable for the USB 2.0 connector. Yet another cable to store away carefully. Sigh.

Those videos that did transfer played back very nicely but there is a limit to how much TV or movies we want to watch on a 2.8-inch screen. The hassle of fast forwarding or rewinding video using hardware buttons also detracts from the pleasure.

The A845 can manage 29 hours of music playback or 9 hours of video playback. Sony supplies a set of its own MDR-NC033 in-ear headphones with the A845 which provide a degree of digital noise cancelling, however your reviewer found his own set of Sony MDR-NC11 headphones did a better job of delivering some punch to rock music.

Delve in the set-up menu and you’ll find options for VPT, which changes the acoustics of the ‘venue’, along with an equaliser to change settings for the genre of music. VPT, we read, stands for Virtual Phones Technology and we also had fun with another unexplained acronym, DPC, which it turns out stands for Speed Control. You can use DPC to adjust the speed of the music with a selection of eight options from x0.5 to x2.0, without suffering from the chipmunk effect as the correct pitch is maintained automatically.

Company: Sony

Contact: 0845 6000124


Verdict
We like the Sony A845 despite its long list of minor flaws. The absence of a touch screen seems a bit odd, and the limited support for music and video formats could be a real problem for some people. On the other hand if, like us, you merely want a player that handles MP3 music with aplomb and you love the look and feel of a sophisticated piece of hardware, you'll be won over.