Will the new king keep the portable music crown? Is Sony’s challenge serious? Should you switch from your iPod to a new Sony Walkman? What are the pros and cons? We have the answers.
Sony’s Walkman celebrated 25 years with the introduction of the catchy-named Walkman NW-HD1, a diminutive 20-gigabyte portable music player. Sony claims it will hold 13,000 songs. Apple’s new 40 gigabyte iPod boasts storage capacity of 10,000 songs.
Is Sony playing fair? Does Apple have an unfair advantage? The new generation iPod has just been released while Sony says the new Walkman won’t make it to US stores until August.
Here’s what you need to know.
Our 12 point analysis will surprise you, baffle you, encourage you, and make you think hard about your music collection and how you want to listen to music in the future. In the end, we crown a king.
1 – Overall Size
If small is better, then Sony has an advantage. For now. The Walkman is notably smaller than the new generation iPod. It feels and looks more like Apple’s iPod mini. As with all things Sony, it has a precision “tech feel” to it. On the other hand, the iPod feels comfortable and easily fits into a pocket. Still, the Sony is smaller. Smaller is better, right?
2 – Hard Drive Capacity
Size is everything. That 4 gig iPod mini is fine for most users. Today. Not next year. Sony’s Walkman sports a 20 gigabyte Toshiba mini-hard drive that’ll handle 13,000 songs. And nothing else. Apple’s iPod will handle 10,000 songs (at a higher bit rate; supposedly a better sound), and can double as a hard drive and store all your important files. For about the same money, the iPod will give you plenty of room for a large collection of songs, AND room for photos, files, games, your Home directory and more.
3 – Total Number of Songs
Sony claims the new Walkman will hold 13,000 songs vs. the iPod’s (40 gig model) 10,000 songs. Sony isn’t comparing apples to Apple’s. That 13,000 figure is based on 48 kilobit recording in ATRAC format. Apple uses the higher quality AAC at 128 kilobits. However, in a recent test, listeners couldn’t tell much difference between the higher bit rate. Apple says 10,000. Sony says 13,000.
4 – Cool Factor
There’s a whole industry of extras that have grown up around the iPod. Major movie stars and recording artists claim to use the iPod. Will Smith (I, Robot; Fresh Prince) says he has every model made and tens of thousands of songs. Vice President Dick Cheney claims to be an iPod user. Judging by the number of white earplugs, many, many people think the iPod is cool. Sony? It’s not on the streets yet.
5 – Sound Quality
Apple uses the AAC recording format to compress songs into high quality on the iPod. Generally speaking, AAC is considered good, much better than MP3, but not the best. Does it matter if it’s just good enough? Sony uses a very efficient ATRAC3 recording scheme. Users say it’s hard to tell the difference.
6 – Versatility
Sony’s Walkman WH-HD1 plays music and audio. So does the iPod. The iPod also stores photos, files, folders, and anything else from your PC or Mac, including applications. In some cases, the iPod could act as your external hard drive. That opens up the uses of the iPod far beyond music. In fact, it can hold music AND everything else. The iPod runs on both Mac and PC, USB and Firewire. The Walkman is PC only and USB only.
We’re at the half way point of our 12 point shootout between Sony’s new Walkman, the WH-HD-1 and Apple’s next generation iPod.
The score: iPod 3, Walkman 2, one draw.
7 – Battery Life
Apple’s taken some hits on the iPod battery life. Of course, pioneers get arrows in the back while settlers can defend themselves in a cover wagon. The new gen iPod’s battery life increased by 50-percent; from 8 hours to 12 hours. Sony claims an astounding 30 hours of battery life for the smaller Walkman. Even two iPods won’t get you that much music.
8 – Compatibility
The iPod plays very well with both PC and Mac, USB and Firewire. You can store files on the iPod in both formats (Windows and Mac). The iPod also handles multiple file formats via iTunes. AAC, MP3, and more. Sony’s Walkman is very proprietary. It only records in a new format called ATRAC3 and only works the Sony online music store called Sony Connect, and it works only on Windows.
That’s 8 down and 4 to go in the portable music shootout. Apple leads by a nose 4 to 3, with one draw. Ready to see the winner? Will Sony come from behind? Click Here to go to Page 2 for the final tally and a winner.
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9 – Price
Apple’s new generation iPod holds 40 gigabytes in storage but at $399 is now $100 less than the same size older model. That change in price is fortuitous as Sony announced a $399 price for the new Walkman when it goes on sale in the US in August. Sony “says” the Walkman will be priced lower than the iPod. The 20 gig iPod is only $299.
Sony products, however, are often discounted after an initial launch, and the same could be expected of the Walkman. Still, price is price. If the top of the line is the top of the line and both are $399, it’s a tie.
Sony’s Walkman is just one behind with three full categories to go. The final stretch…
10 – Accessories
The iPod comes with virtually no accessories provided by Apple, while the Sony Walkman comes with Sony’s full-flavored approach to gadgetry; many little things to plug in to the device. That being said, third part accessories abound for the iPod and it enjoys a three year lead on the Walkman. A huge accessories industry has blossomed forth with every kind of portable music gadget you can imagine. FM transmitters, Car Cassette Adapters (made by Sony), Auto Charger, Cables, Speakers, Voice Recorders, Extra Battery, carry cases. It’s a big list. It would take Sony years to catch up in the accessories department. Hands down; iPod.
11 – Online Music Access
Apple’s iTunes and the iTunes Music Store have made a notable impact on how we use music.
Yes, there are other music stores online; a dozen or so to be factual. Add them all up and they still don’t equal half the sales of downloadable music from Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Sony countered with its own proprietary music store called Sony Connect.
In general, the store has been panned by the critics as lukewarm and an embarassment to Sony. Apple’s first generation iPod and iTMS was excellent from the start and has only improved. It’s the leader because it’s better.
Macs and Windows PCs work seamlessly and easily between machine, iTunes Music Store, iTunes, and iPod. It’s an experience unlike any other in the industry. That’s why Apple’s online download music share exceeds 70-percent.
12 – Value
Ultimately, it’s about the overall value, isn’t it? All the factors mix together in value; compatibility, price, features, “feel”, accessories, battery life, overall quality. Fortunately, I don’t have to say much about the winner in this category. Apple’s millions of iPod owners have already voted. With their pocketbooks.
The iPod remains the hands down “value” leader because, like the Mac itself, it just works. Not only does Apple have the “feel” that gives users warm and fuzzies, it does well in every other category that generates a product’s overall value—a lesson not learned yet by competitors.
The once and reigning champion in portable music players is:
Apple’s next generation iPod.
Given time and money, Sony may cut into Apple’s marketshare for music players and online song downloads. They’ll need to make drastic improvements in both. The new Sony Walkman is a good product in a competitive category.
It’s the iPod that’s won the hearts and minds of millions of users worldwide. They won’t be easily swayed into something that’s “not compatible” unless it’s much better and costs much less. Sony’s Walkman doesn’t do either.
iPod in a landslide.