Android phones aren’t wiping the floor with Apple, but they’re doing damn well. While the same can’t be said for tablets, what about media players? Well, Android PMPs are sparse. Today the only real contender in the Android court is the Samsung Galaxy Players, which share the same specifications as last year’s Samsung Galaxy S II phones. The iPod Touch shares the same specs as the iPhone 4, so that made it equal, but Samsung’s larger devices weren’t quite as good as overall PMPs. The 5.0 was better for video with it’s giant screen.

But what about Sony’s upcoming Walkman Z? Sony is finally entering the Android PMP field with a Walkman, which means they’re taking it seriously. But just how seriously are they taking it? And can they dethrone the iPod Touch for best portable media player? Let’s take a look and find out.

Size

For a PMP, size matters, and bigger is better. While a phone is up to the user – after all, we all like something different – a PMP is all about viewing media while still having the option to throw the device in your pocket. The iPod Touch is famous for being razor thin and light, and the Walkman Z is preposterously thick at 11.1mm, nearly 4mm thicker than the iPod, and thicker than many of today’s smartphones. However, it’s a 4.3″ screen compared to a 3.5″ display.

Because screen size isn’t the only thing that matters – obviously smaller devices are more convenient in many ways – this bodes difficult to score for size. The Walkman is larger in every way, and 50% heavier than the iPod to boot. For just screen size, that would be fine, but the overall thickness of the Z evens it out. The defining factor is the display, both of which are TFT panels.

However, the overall ridiculous thickness of the Walkman Z just can’t be forgiven. LTE smartphones, which have a rather large LTE chip (and is one of the reasons Apple doesn’t have an LTE phone out yet) are significantly thinner than this Walkman. Why does it have to be so thick? The bigger screen is a definite bonus, but the gargantuan thickness of the Walkman is a joke for a PMP.

Winner: iPod Touch, because the Walkman is preposterously thick.

Appearance

The Walkman Z looks great, but it’s competing with the iPod Touch, which hasn’t changed it’s design much in five years and still looks damn good. Unfortunately the Walkman doesn’t have any standout or charmingly good looks above and beyond the iPod Touch.

Winner: iPod Touch, which looks great.

Display

Both the Walkman and iPod use the same type of display technology, TFT panels. These high quality panels produce accurate colors and are bright enough to see in bright settings and even direct sunlight. There are only two differences: the Walkman is a 4.3″ screen and the iPod has a 3.5″ screen, and the iPod is much more dense with a resolution of 960×640, compared to 800×480. The former point helps out the Walkman, while the latter is a boon for the iPod.

The only differentiator here is aspect ratio. The Walkman is a 16:9 widescreen display and the iPod is 4:3, so watching video will always be better on the Walkman. So while reading text will be easier on the iPod, the Walkman will produce better video because it won’t have black bars on the top and bottom and use the full 4.3″ display to do it.

Winner: Walkman Z, which has a lower screen resolution and density but is widescreen, better for watching media.

Operating System

For some reason everyone is still making Android 2.3 devices. After spending a lot of time with Android 4.0, I can’t understand how any company would ever want to use it, let alone how users would be interested in it considering the update. Yet here we are, with yet another Android 2.3 handheld. Screw that Sony, ship with the new OS.

Winner: iPod Touch, because the Walkman doesn’t have Android 4.0. There are currently no revealed plans to upgrade it to 4.0.

Processor

Apple A4 versus Nvidia’s Tegra 2? That’s a tough call. The Tegra 2 is slightly newer and is a dual-core chip, but Sony hasn’t revealed which model of Tegra 2 it is. Unfortunately that makes things difficult for distinguishing which chip is better. The A4 is an underclocked 800MHz CPU, and with excellent software implementation is very smooth and fast. Tegra 2 is as well, but at this point, without more information I’m going to have to call this one a tie.

Winner: Tie, not enough information.

Storage

Like most products competing with Apple, the Walkman Z is more expensive for the base model but becomes cheaper when adding additional memory. The Walkman comes in three sizes: 8GB, 16GB and 32GB, compared to the iPod’s 8GB, 32GB and 64GB. Unlike many Android devices the Z does not have expandable storage, so the win easily goes to the iPod. Check Price to see how the memory comparisons stack up dollar for dollar.

Winner: iPod Touch, with a higher overall amount of available memory.

Camera

This is saddeningly dissapointing. The iPod Touch camera is a joke, but at least supports decent 720p video and can Facetime. The Walkman Z? No cameras whatsoever. For this price and at this time for any PMP, that’s just unacceptable.

Winner: iPod Touch, which actually has a camera.

Battery Life

iOS devices have historically had much better battery life than Android devices, at least in my experience. The reason isn’t because they have bigger batteries (they rarely do); it’s because the software is very power sensitive. That said, the times Sony has listed for the Walkman Z pale in comparison to Apple’s own rating: 20 hours of continuous music playback on the Z compared to 40 on the iPod, and 5 hours of video compared to 7. For a bigger device, which should have a bigger battery, this shouldn’t be.

Winner: iPod Touch, with a far longer lasting battery.

Features

The Walkman Z offers some pretty unique features not typically found on PMPs today, most of which are aimed specifically at music listeners. There’s a full equalizer, a number of audio enhancers, a built-in FM tuner (YES!), and decent included earbuds. It also has HDMI out for video and audio playback, as well as gaming.

However, the Z also lacks some pretty basic features, like plenty of video filetypes (though this is an easy fix with the right playback app) and charging through a dedicated cable (not MicroUSB). However, both of these are moot compared to the iPod, the former which can be fixed through apps and the latter which is identical to the iPod’s 30-pin connector.

What really sets the Walkman apart? FM radio. Many forget how important radio is for music listening, which I can never stress enough. It’s what set the Zune apart for the longest time, and what makes some smartphones relevant for many users today. the fact that the iPod Touch doesn’t include it, when the iPod Nano does, is a loss on Apple’s part.

Winner: Walkman Z, with FM radio and an audio equalizer.

Price

The pricing on both the iPod Touch and Walkman Z is, well, unfortunate. Both devices use at least year-old hardware. But Sony has a premium starting price of $250 for the 8GB model, and doesn’t match the iPod’s 64GB model in any way. At every price point Apple beats out Sony, by $50 for the base model, and by $20 for the 32GB unit. And for app fanatics, music junkies, or movie hounds the iPod is the only way to get the maximum amount of data storage.

Winner: iPod Touch, at every price point.

Overall Winner

The score speaks for itself. When comparing the two as completely whole and individual devices, they look fairly similar, but by breaking down their parts it’s clear that the iPod Touch destroys the Walkman Z. The few standout features that the Z offers are interesting and worth remembering, especially depending on your need of a PMP, but the overall device just isn’t competitive. The fact that Sony would make a product like this and not make it competitive with a year-old device is unforgivable.

If you want a PMP for video viewing, the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0 has a huge screen just for that, and expandable memory. Any Android device can have it’s audio manipulated with downloadable equalizers. The only thing that the Walkman Z offers is everything in a bundle for a high price, but we’ll have to wait and see if for our full review to know whether it’s worth buying for Android lovers.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.