It's been almost three generations of listeners who have seen and experienced Sony Walkmans down the ages. The name was, at one point in time, almost synonymous to music players and in some way still continues to be, despite it having been battered to some extent by Apple that continues to unleash its army of iPods in the market.

Sony still holds out strong and remains one of the top players in the PMP (portable media player) market and is constantly launching new ranges of Walkman models to cater to varying consumer needs and demands. The Sony Walkman NWZ-E353, a 4 GB, budget Walkman, loaded with all the goodies that the brand name is tagged with, was launched sometime ago and we've been plugged in to see if it can stand up to the rivals snapping at its heels.

Look and feel

The colourful plastic body feels nice to touch and looks classy with the almost glass-like display (although it's just plastic). The matte back cover provides a decent grip while you operate the player. The controls almost look like they have been designed and positioned to make it look like a certain famous cartoon character by Disney.

The Play/Pause buttons are at the centre with a four-direction circular click button surrounding it. On the right, above the circular dials is the Power button which doubles up as the key that lets you access in-menu functions.

While listening to a song or browsing through the playlist you can use this button to add a bookmark, search for a title among the various genres listed or return to the playback screen. To the left is the Home/Return button.

Music

We listened to ‘Don't Rain on My Parade' by Bobby Darin, one of the popular soundtracks from American Beauty, and the vocals and the bass guitar throughout the song played loud and clear.

The headphones bundled with the Walkman seemed a bit low-end but did not disappoint at all when we plugged the pair in and explored the playlist. It helps to add, the headphones offered a very comfortable fit too.

One proprietary software used in the Walkman NWZ-E353 was the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine that works towards restoring the depth and clarity of digitally compressed music and it did seem to do the job quite well.

You also have the option to upload videos to watch on the 2-inch TFT display but the player only supports .wmv files.

Radio

You can use the Up/Down arrow keys on the circular dial to browse through the FM radio stations — single clicks to manually scan the radio stations and a long press for an automatic scan. Once saved as presets, you can directly jump from one station to another with the Next/Previous buttons. Most stations got scanned easily and the static was absent for most stations except just one or two.

Apps

One of the icons in the interface is the SensMe function. This app quite efficiently groups your music into different genres or moods based on beats per minute in every song that you've stored in your Walkman. We tried out this feature when we didn't want to manually jump from one track to another.

But each time you add songs to the player, the SensMe channel does not automatically detect the new tracks uploaded. You'll have to go to the in-function menu and choose ‘Updating Channels' and only then does the software analyse each track and add it to whichever SensMe channel it deems the track suitable for.

This feature was pretty accurate in assigning all the songs we had loaded on to the device in to the right SensMe channel. For example, when we wanted to listen to something ‘Upbeat', it played ‘Get The Party Started' a, well, very upbeat number by Pink! Other songs that it got bang on to the ‘Upbeat' list were the fast numbers ‘Only Thing That Looks Good On Me' by Bryan Adams, ‘Sultans of Swing' by Dire Straits and ‘I Want To Break Free' by Queen.

‘Mellow' triggered the all-time favourite ‘Can't Help Falling In Love' by the King and ‘You Are My Sunshine', a lovely tune you croon to on a sunny day, by Soggy Bottom Boys and a slow Sufi number ‘Tose Naina Lage' from the Bollywood flick ‘Anwar'.

‘Every Breath You Take' by The Police, ‘Drops of Jupiter' by Train and ‘With Or Without You' by U2 figured in the ‘Emotional' genre and kudos to SensMe for that!

Other g1enres include ‘Dance', ‘Extreme', ‘Morning', ‘Energetic', ‘Relax' and ‘Lounge'.

Transferring files was an easy drag-and-drop routine. We dragged pictures, videos and podcasts too in a list on the Windows Media Player window and all files were copied on to the Walkman in no time. With almost 4 GB of space one can store up to 50 hours of music playback.

The battery life of the player was outstanding. Featuring a standby time of more than a week without any significant drop in the battery charge, the battery indicator hadn't even gone down by 25 per cent after we had listened to almost 8 hours of music and FM Radio combined.

Our verdict

The Walkman NWZ-E353 might not be the best top-end portable music player that Sony has recently come up with but for those of you who just want a simple, affordable, no-frills device that lets you listen to all the music you want without compromising heavily on the sound quality or ease of use, this one is definitely a good bet.

Rs 4,990

Love – Sound clarity and depth, SensMe channels

Hate – Earphones feel cheap, limited video format support

mahananda@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 9, 2011)
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