Saturday, July 24, 2010

Walkman vs. iPod Family: Sony Holds Up Well

I won a Sony mp3 player at my company picnic yesterday, which is exciting news, since I rarely win anything in raffles of this nature.

But here's the funny part: I'd almost forgotten that Apple isn't the only company that makes such devices. That's both good and bad for Apple.

We have four iPod-branded devices at home. Two 32-gig iPod Touches, an iPod Nano, and a standard iPod. Add this Sony player and now we've got one for each member of the family. They vary in their utility for playing music and, in all but one case, video.

For music, the standard iPod and Nano are the best because -- and this'll sound nit-picky -- because the UI for the simpler devices is better for playing music. If I want to shut down the music playing on my iPod Touch, I have to turn the thing back on, unlock it, then shut the music off. With the standard iPod and the Nano, it's just one push of one button, and it's off.

For video, the iPod Touches, of course, are better, simply because their screens are a bit larger. The iPod Nano does play video, but on that tiny 2-inch screen.

I haven't had a real chance to test-drive the Sony yet -- and I love that it's of the Walkman brand; I had one of the original cassette-playing Walkmans back in the 1980s and thought I was one of the coolest people on the face of the planet. But, so far, I'm impressed.

My wife juggles two iPod iterations on her computer. That means that through iTunes, she has to set up two different libraries, and has to remember a certain key combination when she starts iTunes in order to get to the right library. It works maybe two out of three times. The other two iPod devices we have running on separate computers, a desktop and a laptop. Moving music from one to the other is a painful process of either e-mailing or using thumb drives.

The Sony has an incredible UI that Apple could learn from. Sony has set up their device to run like a thumb drive -- and you don't even have to eject the device to disconnect it from the computer. Yes, the iPod Touches do that, but the Sony does something a bit more than that.

Sony recognizes that people who buy their mp3 players likely already have Apple players and iTunes. Rather than making their own complicated library software, Sony just says, hey, drag and drop your music from iTunes over to the Walkman and you're good to go. You can also organize through Windows Media, but if you've already got iTunes, why bother?

Another nifty feature. I noted seeing the package that the Sony would play movies, but only those in the WMV format. I thought that was kind of disappointing, given that I've got a lot of movies and TV shows in the mp4 format. However, Sony has a nifty little feature that converts any incompatible video file format to WMV and thus allow them to be played on the Walkman. I tried the conversion out with a few fifteen-minute cartoons, and the conversions took less than a minute. The videos play just fine. Maybe there's a little degradation of quality, but when you're squinting at a 2-inch screen to watch Donal Duck, you're not going to be all that picky, are you?

The model I won is an 8-gig one, so not terribly large compared to the 16-gig Nano and 32-gig iPod Touches. If I'd been shopping for another player, I would have bought one with a larger capacity. But having used this Sony for only a short time, I'd certainly consider, if I were in the market for a new music/video player, buying on that's not an Apple brand. The ease of moving music over to the new player and the fact I don't have to construct a new library is a big bonus, as is the Sony's ability to do the mp4 to WMV conversion. Sony and the others may be in the secondary mp3 player market, but they're certainly playing that market extremely well.

1 comment:

carl g said...

I have a Sony with built-in noise cancellation that I use while commuting. It is the bomb. As you say, you can just drag your music on to it like a thumbdrive, and it even allows folder-level browsing, which is really convenient. Ipods range from ok to great, as music players, but I hate, hate, hate iTunes. Apple will never decouple their players from it because iTunes is their cash cow, so I'll probably always use other brands for playing mp3s.