Posted by: Ji-L87 | August 29, 2008

Sony NWZ-A818 Review

Right, I believe I’m ready to pass judgement after about two months of use.

I’m also going to skip things as packaging etc because what we really care about is the player itself, right?
I haven’t owned that many mp3-players before this, just some small & cheap 128 meg ones and a 5 gig Creative Zen Micro. So I guess the Zen Micro is the only device I can compare with…except that I can’t really compare it since it’s 1) dead 2) given away to a friend…which leaves me with nothing. That’s…not that good at all, is it?

Anyway, let’s see what I have to say about this 8 gig device from Sony!

The looks / Exterior

I quite like this. It’s thin, feels quite light and looks well proportioned. I also find the white version to give of a sort of fresh feel now when all things usually come in black…which this one also does. I also saw blue, grey and pink versions on the internet, but not in any stores.

The placement of the buttons & controls are also pretty good and left handed persons (like me) will not have any real problem operating this one.
With one exception: The lock/hold shift is located in the lower right corner on the back, not really a good placement for anyone.

The interior / Performance

Now THIS is what really matters, right?
I choosed the Sony A818 because it has received praise for it’s audio quality, which was probably the most important thing to me: I wanted a good sounding player above anything else.
(I should mention that I’m probably no audiophile nor has any real experience with higher end earbuds.)

And, yes, I really think it has good audio quality. Sure, I enabled some options called DSEE (Sound Enhancer), Dynamic Normalizer & Clear Stereo as well as choosing a good equalizer and some people might argue that this sound experience now has gotten a bit “artificial”…but, no, I like it. Turning these things off really makes the sound more boring and…”flat”.

Another thing that adds to the audio quality is the ear buds that were shipped with player. These aren’t just another pair of generic crap with uninspired performance. No, they ship these and I honestly think they are quite good. They might be a little low on bass sometimes but they are very clear.

So, it got good audio performance. How is the interface, then?

It actually is a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s cellphone-like design is indeed very powerful I do think they are a little heavy on the black. Everywhere you go: black backgrounds. I would really have liked to seen a little more colors…or at least not so much black, but I guess that’s the Sony-way. Everything from them comes in black by default it seems : /

The main menu or "home"

But as stated earlier, it’s a powerful interface that feels efficient to use and also quite logical. You start out in this “main menu” kind of place which provides an excellent overview of the basic functions. The most important ones are the music playback, video playback, image gallery and options. From there you also have access to playlists, search, some shuffle options, the clock and the now playing-function (which can also be accessed from anywhere by pressing the “option” button). No matter how deep you then go from there, you can always go back to the main menu by holding down the “back”-button for about a second.

During music playback you are presented with the usual information: song name, album art, artist, album, genre and year. These aren’t just static info, you can move up and down and select these.
Worth mentioning is also the there are two “bars” in the interface, on the top and bottom of the screen. The top one tells you where you are when you move around in menus and the bottom one tells you about the song name, artist & battery status as you move around. If you’re not moving around during music playback, it also tells you where you are in the current track as well as the settings for equalizer, how you browse your music (album, genre, folder etc) and if you’re using the surround-option.

Music Playback

Music Playback

Viewing the album art

Viewing the album art

Don't mind the doubles, that's just my tags messed up

Don't mind the mess, it's just my faulty tags

Pressing the “option”-button here gives you access to different play modes, the equalizers, surround-settings, the cover art, detailed information about the track as well as the clock.

Movie playback then! It…feels a bit simple. Yes, you can choose if you want the screen to be vertical or horizontal to the left or right. Yes, you have some “zoom”-options…but…it still feels a bit limited.
While the A818’s 2” screen is quite good when it comes to performance, with 30fps playback and good color accuracy, it’s much too small for any serious viewing. The zoom-settings too isn’t free from faults. It consists of only 3 modes: Full, Auto and OFF. It’s on auto by default but you will find yourself switching to full every now and then because auto just doesn’t always work. I also suspect that video playback doesn’t make use of the settings you’ve entered for music playback, such as the sound enhance and equalizer…

Comic Party OP

Comic Party OP

From the YUA Artbook

From the YUA Artbook

Lastly, we have the ability to view images. This is…really basic and just feels like a quickly added feature. You can rotate the images, much like the videos, and you can make it do a slideshow with music playing…but you can’t do much more at all. Not even zoom in or out.

One really nice thing is that the player is always more or less “on”. Okay, the screen is black and no music is playing, but by simply pressing any button, it springs to life just as quickly as it went to sleep. Yes, sleeping, that’s more or less what it seems to do. There have been times lately when it has taken a few seconds for it to revive itself but I suspect that has something to do with it being completely full with music/movies now and it’s indexing them or something…I don’t know.
Lastly, battery life is great. You get about maybe 30 hours music or something along 6 hours video playback. That’s really good.

Connecting it to a computer

This is done very easliy. Just JAM IT IN a free usb-slot and it should appear as a usb-drive shortly. Very handy. From what I’ve heard, any model from the A810 and upwards works like this. Anything below that and you’ll be stuck with using some really horrible importing software (I’ve tried that, not good at all).
So, putting songs, videos and images on this is just about as easy as it is to put such files on a normal usb-memory.
There are folders for everything and I’m sure you will figure it out. I’ve heard you can use WMP or maybe Sony’s own software to put things on it but…I don’t think there’s really a need for that.
Speaking of folders, you can create 8 levels of sub folders for music and 2 for video/images.

Nitpicking

No review is complete without it as long as the product in question isn’t free from flaws.
And the Sony A818 isn’t. Nothing really alarming though, just…not perfect.

* To start things off, I’m a bit disappointed not seeing “the time” during music playback. Like…1:24/3:40 or so. I mean, they do it for the videos so why not there? Maybe they didn’t have room for that in the bottom bar…which makes me wonder why they couldn’t put some of the things down there in the bar on top instead.

* If you plan to watch some videos on it, know that you must convert them to H.264 as well 320×240 (resolution) for them to work properly. When it comes to images, some jpegs won’t work and it doesn’t seem to like any image other format at all. Music format compatibility is also quite shallow with only mp3, wma (plus wav) and non-copyright protected AAC-LC files.

* Every little thing that happens to the headphone cord, you will hear. I’m not sure if this is normal for cords nowadays but I only had this much problem with these and a pair of older Sony earbuds. It gets really annoying really fast. The cord is also of an, to me, unusual shape. It doesn’t look like a “V” when it splits and I’m not sure how they want me to wear it. It is also a very short cord but you can make it into good length by using the supplied extension cord. I’m just not sure how well that works when it rains hard or so…

* You don’t get a charger. If you want to charge it through an outlet instead of using your computer, you’ll have to buy one of those usb adapter things.

* If you want album art you have to embed it in the ID3-tag. At least if you’re just dragging and dropping like me.

* The surface of the player is kind of slippery. You have to careful not to drop it. It might also be a good idea to buy some sort of screen protector or casing, it’s quite easy to land a finger or two on the screen when trying to pick it up from your pocket.

* When you’re outside, you’ll have to crank up the brightness of screen or at least cover it with your hand for you to be able to see anything at all.

To sum things up

I really think it is a good player. I really does a good job at what an mp3-player should do, music playback. Sure, it doesn’t have a large, touch-sensitive screen, it doesn’t support bluetooth or wifi and it maybe doesn’t play all those formats you have without converting them, but you can’t call it bad player, you just can’t.

So, IF you are looking for an mp3-player that does what a mp3-player should do very well and do like good audio quality out of the box, then this might be a good choice. If you’re lucky, it might even be much cheaper than it’s rivals, especially now when there’s newer models out there.

(Tested with XP + SP 2/3)

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Responses

  1. […] I also ended up getting a new portable music player, the Sony NWZ-A17. This one (64gb ver) I had to get from Massdrop as the Sony was 1) quite expensive here in Sweden and 2) not available with the larger memory (bit priced almost as high). It’s been really good. The back/option buttons are slightly mushy though but other than that works well. I’ve been using Sony DAPs since my Creative Zen Micro died and I got a Sony NWZ-A818 instead, which I wrote about long ago. […]


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