Disclaimer: I received the Meb Keflezighi Special Edition NWZ-W262 Walkman as a free gift from Sony by way of Klout. As such, you should take this review with a huge grain of salt, even though I’ll do my darnedest to be fair and balanced.
There are a lot of options out there for listening to music while you exercise, most of which involve carrying around a device to which a pair of headphones are attached via a cable. If you’re made of money (and have the right device), you can get bluetooth headphones that are cable free, but you still have to carry around the device. Sony’s solution to this duality problem is its latest generation of the Walkman, the NWZ-W262, which is the subject of this two-part review. In Part I, I’ll unbox the device and give you my impressions as I run down the features and try it at my desk. In Part II, I’ll report on how well it did after I’ve used it under various conditions in the field.
The Walkman arrived in handsome and well-constructed retail packaging, which is pleasing, if not particularly unusual.
The first thing I did was to flip it over and look at the description on the back. What I saw was disheartening, as I’m an Apple user, and the (ridiculously long and specific) System Requirements indicated that I’d need Windows to make it work.
Fortunately, this turned out not to be the case, as I’ll explain later on.
Opening the box didn’t require any special tools or cutting through plastic (huzzah!). It contained a micro-B USB cable (about 2′ long), the usual array of ear gels in various sizes, a small plastic holder, the typical safety/warranty/quick-start literature, and a separate pink sheet warning that it’s water resistant, not water proof. (The IPX5 rating that it meets is for resistance to jets of water, but not total immersion; that’s IPX7 or higher. Ergo, I wouldn’t recommend using it in the pool.) There was also a nice booklet about training for running, written by Meb Keflezighi, right on top.
The booklet has a lot of information and tips that sound logical to me, but I’m not a distance runner, so I can’t really cast an expert’s eye on it. If you are a runner, however, you’ll probably find it more interesting than you’d expect. (And lest you think some guy in Sony’s marketing department actually did the writing, it’s worth noting that Meb graduated from UCLA, where he majored in communications studies with a business focus.)
The headphones themselves have a bit of weight to them that gives them ‘feel’, which I liked, though it could conceivably be a distraction (I’ll let you know in Part II.) The design is handsome, though not extraordinary – Each side vaguely resembles a bluetooth headset, with a bit of decorative flair.
The wire connecting the two halves rests the whole thing very comfortably around your neck when you take them out of your ears. This beats the dockers off of dealing with dangling earbuds and tangled cables, and I instantly appreciated why they came up with this particular product the first time I took them off.
A Note About the Systems Requirements
As I mentioned, my concerns about the system requirements specified on the box were largely unfounded. After I plugged the Walkman into my MacBook Pro, it showed up as a mass storage device in the Finder, with a folder labeled MUSIC that was pre-populated with set of mp3 files labeled “Tip1_join_a_Team”, “Tip2_Training_Routine”, and the like. (As it turns out, these files were recordings of Meb’s suggestions for being a successful runner. Having no interest in being a runner, I deleted them.) I opened iTunes, selected the songs I wanted in my library, and dragged them to the MUSIC folder in the Finder. They were automatically copied to the Walkman, and all of them played flawlessly without any further manipulation, with one exception. I did some analysis, and it turns out that one exception was copied over in Apple’s lossless ALAC format, rather than AAC, even though it was in the same type of container (MPEG-4) as some of the other songs I transferred that did play. (The box specified that the Walkman “Plays back MP3, WMA, AAC, [and] Linear PCM Audio Files”.) I used iTunes to create an mp3 version of the same song, transferred it over, and wallah! It played, though for some users, this extra step may be an annoyance. I also discovered by experimentation that I could create different playlists (also referred to as “folders” in the instructions) by creating sub-folders inside the MUSIC directory and populating them with songs.
The device has around 2GB of storage available, which strikes me as plenty for its intended purpose. I played songs from a couple of genres (rock and a capella), and the sound quality was excellent from my perspective, though I don’t consider myself to be an audiophile; i.e., your mileage may vary. The controls were very cleverly designed, with the play/pause button and a skip forward/back rocker below the right earpiece, and a playlists/shuffle button and a volume lower/higher rocker on the left.
The clever part is that the buttons are shaped differently from one side to the other, so it’s easy to distinguish by feel which is which. The rockers were also oriented in an intuitive way – Pushing the end of the rocker that’s closest to your chest increases the volume (left ear) or goes forward in the song list (right ear); pushing the end of the rocker that’s toward your back does the opposite. That’s one of those little things that makes a HUGE difference in making it easy to use, at least for me. There’s also a pre-recorded voice that tells you what’s going on when you activate some of the major features (e.g., “Shuffle on”, “Playing next folder”), which I found unobtrusive and infinitely more helpful than simple beeps.
The power button and indicator light are on the inside surface of the right ear piece; you have to remove the Walkman to turn it off entirely. (Note: the power light is off in the picture, even though the power switch is on, because the light comes on about every five seconds rather than staying on. I presume this is to conserve power.) The indicator light is supposed to change color as the batteries get low, but you won’t be able to see it when that happens without removing it from your ears, so I don’t think that’s likely to be useful; time will tell.
The USB socket is on the back of the right earpiece as well. The cover is easy to remove, and replaces snugly.
Putting the Walkman on takes some getting used to, as the feel is completely different from popping in earbuds. I found it easiest to hang it around my neck as though I’d just taken it off, grab each side with my thumbs on the bottoms of the earpieces and put them in my ear canals, then flip the wire over the tops of my ears. I suspect putting it on will become second nature in short order. Once it’s on, it feels firm and steady; not loose at all.
That’s it for my initial impressions! If you have any questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer promptly. Look for Part II of this review after I’ve had a chance to put the Walkman through its paces in the field.