Ah, the battle of good and evil; one competing brand against another is always a good sign when it comes to gadgets because it normally works out in the favour of us, the consumers. But can the Walkman X-Series really be any better than the iPod touch? We managed a quick ear's on with the new MP3 Player at the UK launch event.
30 years ago if you wanted music on the go you only really had one option: a Walkman from Sony. Now you have literally got hundreds, meaning that if Sony want to rule the roost once more it's going to have to pull out all the stops.
So instead of just another "a n other" Walkman that is likely to merge into the background of your busy life, the company has attempted to created something of merit: the X-Series Walkman.
As we said a moment ago, our play was brief, on a disused platform in Charing Cross buried deep in the ground. The venue wasn't because this is a product Sony wants to bury, in fact they probably want to shout about it from the roof tops, but because those marketing types want to imply that the little music box would be perfect for the Tube.
To that end you get a 3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, noise-cancelling headphone technology and a couple of other bits and bobs thrown in for good measure. The screen, which is as pretty as you would expect it to be, is bright and crisp. It has a wide viewing angle making it not ideal if you don't want others to see what you are watching, but one that you will enjoy day-in day-out.
That screen might be smaller than the iPod touch's but its quality is considerably better, meaning video footage will be sharp enough to watch without making your eyes hurt.
Of course touchscreens can look beautiful but what about performance? Well we are pleased to report the touch elements were responsive, allowing your little finger to flick through covers and menu options with ease. At no point did we wonder what was happening.
For those a touch worried about getting down and dirty with a screen, they shouldn't be, there are still plenty of buttons on hand (play/pause, skip, etc) and we especially like the large hold button at the back that locks everything down.
Back to that screen though and the two main criticisms we have are that "by 'eck" it smudges easily, and that it's so glossy it will be interesting to see how it looks in the bright summer sun (UK readers shouldn't have to worry). Glossy here means you'll have to do plenty of rubbing on your jeans.
The screen is one thing, but what about the rest of the MP3 player? Well you get video, pictures and music as you would expect, an FM radio that trumps the iPods of this world and a Wi-Fi connectivity option so you can download YouTube videos or surf the Internet on the what appears to be basic browser.
Being hundreds of metres underground with no Wi-Fi in sight we weren't able to test these features unfortunately (you'll have to wait for our full review) but if you happen to be near a Wi-Fi connection it's probably a good thing to have. Of course unlike Apple you don't get an email client or access to apps via an app store so this isn't going to replace your phone or computer.
Features, features: what about sound?
Sound we can report, using the accompanying headphones in the box, is very good. It was quiet when we tried them, but still believe on a busy train you shouldn't have any problem. The sound quality is improved by Sony bundling a decent pair of earphones in the box and a switch on the side of the X-Series that lets you turn on noise cancelling.
Strangely/frustratingly it will only work with Sony's own headphones so if you want to use your own, then that useful button becomes useless. It's disappointing because if you lose the headphones (we all have at some point), then you're stuffed if you want to enjoy that feature.
At £209 for the 16GB model and £279 for the 32GB the X-Series is pricey, especially considering you don't get the power of the App Store, email client and all the other elements of the iPod touch.
Yes you still get that good screen, an FM radio and easy file transfer, but then the days of offering just a device that plays music and lets you view and watch pictures and video, at the high-end are over.
Our perspective may change once we've had a real chance to play with the unit, but at the moment the X-Series comes across as a valiant attempt that still isn't good enough to take the top spot.
This is a mid-range player, gunning for high-end prices.