May 14, 2009 Sony has set its PMP sights firmly on the iPod Touch with the new X-Series Walkman. Sporting a similar form factor and much of the functionality of its Apple competitor, the X-Series manages to hold its own with the inclusion of an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) touch screen and integrated digital noise canceling technology.

The 3-inch 16:9 OLED touchscreen found on the X-Series might be half an inch smaller than that found on the iPod Touch, but its superior contrast, rapid response rate and wide viewing angle compensate for the shortfall in real estate. When watching a movie Sony’s version of gesture control, dubbed “screen scroll”, allows users to select a preferred time increment and swipe across the screen to scroll forward and back through the scenes at that increment.

By incorporating digital noise canceling (DNC) technology into the device, the X-Series lets users block out ambient noise without the usual bulky, battery powered headphones we’re used to. The accompanying 13.5mm EX headphones house a small microphone to measure intrusive noise so the DNC filter can create an optimal inverted sound wave that reduces up to 98.0 percent of the noise.

While Sony’s DNC software engine makes it possible for the DNC technology to work anywhere, custom settings such as airplane, bus/train or office modes utilize different filters specifically tuned for these surroundings. Jetsetters can even connect the X-series player directly to a plane’s audio/video system with the included accessory cable, to enjoy noise cancellation with the regular in-flight entertainment. For those yearning for a little peace and quiet, the noise canceling feature can also be turned on even when not listening to audio.

The inclusion of Wi-Fi in a Walkman for the first time broadens the options for filling the 16 or 32GB of storage provided by X-Series. The mini browser lets users download content from online stores including iTunes, subscribe to and download podcasts or browse Youtube. When playing a song a “Related Links” function also allows for quick searches of complementary content via YouTube using metadata associated with the song.

Meanwhile, the embedded Slacker Radio app lets users select up to three stations and hundreds of songs will get pushed to the device at no charge. When a Wi-Fi connection is active and the stations are refreshed, content is buffered and cached on the Walkman player so those tunes can be enjoyed when in a Wi-Fi free zone. Otherwise there’s always the FM tuner to fall back on.

The X-Series supports most popular and video codecs, including protected Windows Media Video (WMV) files, H.264 and MPEG-4, while the Content Transfer software enables “drag and drop” transfer of non-DRM music, videos, podcasts and playlists from online music services such as iTunes. The battery provides up to 33 hours of music playback and up to 9 hours of video playback.

The X-Series isn’t completely dependent on the OLED touchscreen, employing a hybrid interface that utilizes hard keys on the side and top of the device that make it possible to control playback without looking at the display when the X-Series is tucked away inside a bag or pocket.

With all it has going for it, the X-Series Walkman have a hard task knocking the similarly featured iPod Touch off its perch – particularly without the kind of app support that Apple’s device boasts. But the inclusion of DNC technology and an impressive OLED display might just sway a few away from the Apple camp.

The X-series Walkman video MP3 player will be available in black or black, and comes in two different storage capacities - the NWZ- X1051 with 16GB of internal storage and the NWZ- X1061 with 32GB. They are priced at USD$299 and $399 respectively, which just happen to be identical to the 16 and 32GB model iPod Touches. Both model X-Series Walkman are available for pre-order now and will appear in stores mid June.

Darren Quick

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