Sony Walkman NWZ-B162
Sony's NWZ-B162 Walkman is a long, slim MP3 player around 9cm long but just 23mm at its widest point. It comes in a variety of snazzy colours (we're particularly taken by the blue one, pictured) and has a sturdy clip that makes it easy to attach to clothing or a backpack. This makes the NWZ-B162 a promising option for running or exercise sessions.
The player is simple to use. A tiny mono LED screen displays what's playing and a jog wheel lets you move back and forth between tracks. You can also use the jog wheel to navigate menus, but the jog wheel can be inaccurate, sometimes leading us to skip straight past the menu option we wanted and sometimes not responding at all.
There's also a Zap button, which quickly skips through your music, playing a fragment of each track until you find one you want to listen to. Tracks can be played randomly or in order and sorted by artist, album, folder, playlist or a few other common tags. Shuffle mode shuffles in both directions, so there's no way of getting back to a track that you accidentally skipped or would like to hear again.
A bass boost button quickly and easily increases the player's already emphatic bass to levels that most people will find uncomfortable. We were surprised to find that at the player's default EQ settings, mid-tones sounded somewhat weak and easily overwhelmed by bass when compared to our reference Cowon and Apple MP3 players, particularly at lower volume settings. You can apply your own EQ settings, but this is fiddly. The player's output was a little quiet when we listened to it through third-party headphones, but it's an improvement on the supplied earphones, which sound fine but felt hard and uncomfortable and were prone to falling out of our ears.
Part of this little player's appeal is that you only have to charge it for three minutes to get about an hour and a half's play time; perfect if you're just running out of the house. You can also quickly and easily add music by dragging and dropping files and directories onto the player. You can sync with Windows Media Player, although after a copying error one of our folders was impossible to delete.
This 2GB player costs almost as much as the ubiquitous Apple iPod Shuffle (4th generation), which is smaller, lighter, has a better clip and less bassy default audio settings. Unless you absolutely hate being tied to iTunes, you might as well buy a Shuffle, and if you want a display, you can get a higher-capacity Sandisk Sansa Clip+ 4GB for just a few pounds more.