In a battle for touch screen MP3 players Sony swung for the fences with a premium product with a price to match well above the competition. To those who have the extra cash to spend the premium price may well be justified. These unique to the competition features include YouTube browsing, Slacker Radio (US Only), direct podcast downloads, premium noise canceling headphones, and a semi-useful web browser.
Some of the highlights of this player include an amazing looking OLED screen with a capacitive touch screen with a lightning fast response. You can also expect great sound quality like most of Sony’s other players. Read on for the full in depth look at the Sony X-1000 player.
- Sony X-1000 Specs
- Dimensions: 43.9 x 2.1 x 0.4 in.
- Weight: 3.5 ounces
- Colors: Black
- Capacities: 16GB, 32GB
- MSRP: $300, $400
- Display: 3″ 432×240 LCD 262k colors, Touch Capacitive
- Audio: MP3, WMA, AAC, L-PCM
- Video: AVC (H.264/AVC), MPEG-4, WMV DRM
- Photo: JPEG
- Transfer Protocol: MTP / Temporary MSC
- Audio: 5-band EQ,VPT Surround
- Battery: 33h Audio, 9h Video
- Other: Wi-Fi, YouTube, Slacker Radio (US Only), Internet Browswer, Yahoo! Search, Direct Download Podcasts
Inside the Box / Accessories
Sony goes a bit beyond the basic accessories packaged with the X-1000 Included: Noise canceling earphones (MDR-NC020) with three different sizes of inserts, airline adapter, noise canceling extension cable, dock adapter, and transfer software. We’ll get more into these below, but as far as aftermarket accessories goes you will be able to find all the basic things like various types of cases and speaker docks- though the docks are usually Sony’s own concoction.
Design / Build Quality
Sony did a nice job on the design it feels well built like most of their higher end products. It’s a bit on the heavier side, but in a good way making it feel substantial. I believe that most of this weight lies in the surrounding bezel made of a heavy metal. This metal is finished with a crackle paint giving it a rock like finish and feel. When I first saw this finish at CES 2009 (where it was behind glass) it wasn’t very appealing, but once I got it in my hand it’s a finish I can appreciate giving nice grip and unique feel. If it’s not visually appealing to you then you may welcome its function and feel.
The screen is a glass composite so it is very scratch resistant. The back on the other hand is made of slippery scratch resistant plastic. Its saving grace however, is that its kept a fraction of a millimeter off of flat surfaces raised by the metal bezel and hold button. The serial number sticker on the back actually shows more scratches then the plastic backing.
The buttons are nice and tight with a proper tactile click. They are also well placed with the volume buttons and noise canceling switch on the right side. Also at the top you have buttons dedicated to forward, reverse, and pause/play. The hold switch is cleverly integrated into the design on the back. It’s probably the biggest hold switch I’ve seen on an mp3 player, but it’s much nicer than fumbling with a tiny on/off/hold switch or a soft switch in the touch screen.
The 3” 432 x 240 pixel OLED screen looks fantastic. OLED technology has come a long way, early tech had color inaccuracies and refresh issues but the screen found on the X-1000 is modern and refined screen. Colors look accurate and blacks are nice and near absolute black. The refresh rate appears to be just as fast as an AMOLED (Active Matrix OLED) like the one found on the Cowon S9. In fact if no one had told me it’s an OLED screen I would have guess it to be an AMOLED. Between the X-1000 and the Cowon S9 you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference- though when compared to the LCD on the Samsung P3, the P3 slips a little behind lacking the deep blacks even though the refresh rate seems to keep up.
Sony spent some time on this like they do with all their other players- its a well thought out pick-up-and-use interface. The basic home screen is a grid like many touch screen players with typical list scrolling in music and menus. Any navigation is handled predictably at the bottom of the screen. The top of the player is dedicated to status information such as play indication, battery life, Wi-Fi and other indicators. The constant of having the navigation at the bottom makes it comfortable to use. For instance the Cowon S9 puts some of the menu options at the top of the screen making it comparatively awkward to navigate. Rounding the UI out is the big home button at the bottom taking you back to the home grid in one press.
This is easily the fastest most accurate touch screen on any device I have used to date. It easily kicks the Cowon S9, Samsung P3, and even the iPod Touch to the curb. There are even some nice built in heuristics that fend off accidental presses. If you give one of the home screen icons a light brief brush it will only show a quick glow of the icon. Kind of saying “Hey, I’m not sure you meant to press this button, if you did, go ahead and try again”. Accidental presses are considerably more rare compared to other devices.
Transferring Media / Software
The X-1000 is an MTP device- drag and drop for any modern OS. If you want to keep your collection sorted, use a sync feature, or create playlists most desktop media players will work well. There is a also a MSC compatibility mode under the settings for Linux and Mac users that have not installed MTP drivers. Note however this is not a setting that keeps it on MSC mode- its only a momentary setting. When you are done using it you have to press the home button to boot back to the main player OS. Also if you are looking to use MSC on a Windows OS you will have to do some clever hacks like disable the MTP drivers in order to get the X-1000 to function in MSC mode since it will just auto detect and use MTP if available.
Sony Media Transfer: unfortunately, the included software is complete garbage, reminiscent of SonicStage. It’s very buggy and doesn’t convert anything other than basic WMV and MPEG files unless you cough up $13 for the “Pro” version. Luckily the PSP has paved the way for lots of free alternatives for converting video for the device. The manual and the pop up screens on the player says that this software is needed for podcasts, however, I have successfully subscribed to podcasts from the web browser. There is also a way to subscribe to Flickr photo streams though the software- I have only been able to subscribe to the main public photostream. Entering a user or search photo stream returned an error in version 1.2.
Included on the supplied software disc is a light transfer Windows gadget. It will allow you do drag and drop all of you media to that gadget and transfer it to the proper media folder- it’s a neat little app but it doesn’t work well just as the other software. I had issues with dragging and dropping podcasts and videos often didn’t take.
WiFi- performance varied by network, but I was unable to pin point what the factor causing the variation. When the performance was lacking it wasn’t that there were any YouTube buffering issues, it was just slow to open the media or show the thumbnails. Also Wi-Fi is a battery killer. It took about a half hour to update about a half a gig worth of podcasts over my secured network and it drained about a quarter of the battery life. Similar story if you are browsing YouTube videos- don’t expect more than a few hours of streaming.
You can subscribe and download podcasts directly from the player; unfortunately it’s a rather rough experience. As mentioned above there are two basic ways to add a podcast: through the software or by clicking on the podcast RSS link in the web browser. The software as mentioned is not at all fun to use and downright frustrating at times- some podcast RSS feeds couldn’t be added due to an error. Other video podcasts would download, transfer to the device through the software, and then not play properly. MP3 podcasts usually didn’t have any issues, it was mostly video podcasts that had trouble. Aside from the Media Transfer software bugs the main issue is that the player can be a bit picky with some H.264 encodes.
Subscribing to podcast over the web browser had similar issues but was far easier and produced fewer errors. One of the default links in the web browser is to the mobile site of podcast.com which works pretty well but is still a messy way to add podcasts since it’s a massive directory without a search mechanism. Aside from the directory you can simply click the RSS icon on a regular web page, but browsing non-mobile formatted sties and searching for that RSS link is not a good experience.
The bottom line is that it works and you will likely be able to subscribe all your favorite podcasts, but be prepared to spend some time getting them all in and working properly. It’s a buggy and far from an easy user experience. I hope Sony will release a substantial firmware update to possibly include some kind of podcast directory or somehow make this and easier to use feature.
YouTube on the other hand has a pretty solid video browser with a basic list with thumbnails. You can view videos by “Most Viewed”, “Featured”, or “Related”. You can also search by keyword. These videos can be further filtered by region or time frame.
One of the cool things about having YouTube on this player is that it’s great for music discovery or watching artists videos. One of the menu items on the now playing screen is a “Web search” icon that allows you to search the current artist, album, or song you are listening to. So if you want to see the video for the song you are currently playing, if its relatively popular and available on YouTube you can dive right in with a click. I even found a lot of stuff that wasn’t so popular. For instance there are a lot of vinyl rips of electronic music on YouTube, so as an electronic music fan I could find various remixes of many club tracks. Some may get more out of this than others, but you can easily check how well this will work for your musical tasted by going to youtube.com and searching for what you normally listen to since its all the same.
I thought this might be a gimmick feature, but it turns out to be a very usefully and pretty solid feature.
The web browser works fine if you are viewing mobile versions of a website. It was a pain to browse most non mobile websites on such a tiny screen with many of them having formatting errors and not being able to run certain scripts and flash. Zooming could have been helpful in the case of a small screen, but the scaling of the page was less than pretty. If you zoom the furthest out to make the page fit to the screen the text turns into a bunch of dots. Not dots because it’s really small typeface, but dots because it can’t display fonts that small on the screen.
Text Input:If you are good at T9 number pad text input, you might be ok since the touch screen is accurate. However it might be frustrating to those who are spoiled with QWERTY keypads and are not fluent in T9.
The saving grace of the browser on the X-1000 is the many mobile formatted sites out there. Most search engines have mobile site and even customized mobile home pages such as google.com/ig. Facebook and Twitter have mobile sites as well and it’s a pretty decent experience from the device other than the text input part for some.
US residents will get Slacker Radio- the UK and EU will be out of luck due to record labels’ regional licensing restrictions. Simply loading US firmware on your UK device likely won’t work since blocking takes place by IP address. Yeah, pretty lame. For those who don’t know it’s a free skippable Internet radio that will stream over your Wi-Fi connection- it’s something similar to Pandora or Last.FM radio. It is definitely a killer feature- great for when you can’t decide what to listen to or don’t want to mess with playlists.
I got my X-1000 over a month or so ago before there was a US version so I can’t comment on its performance, but will update once I can get my hands on the US firmware. However, based on how well they pulled off the YouTube integration- I would expect this to be a solid feature. I have used Slacker on other mobile devices and it’s a great service, so its ex
citing to see it come to a Wi-Fi enabled MP3 player.
Battery life is rated at 33 hours for music and 9 hours for video. While the audio did play to something in the vicinity of 30 hours the video for me was more towards 6-7 hours. Much better than most, but well below the advertised; it may depend on your video encode. Previously mentioned, Wi-Fi is a battery killer and that is somewhat expected. I found myself charging the player every few days of full day use- most of this was music with the occasional web surf and YouTube video. Despite the expected Wi-Fi drain the X-1000 does very well on the battery front.
Flipping through you music library is quite a treat. There are two basic screens, the now playing screen and the browser. Starting with the browsing screen there is much less of a hierarchical feel to the way you browse the basic ID3 data based such as Album, Song, Artist, ect. Hierarchical browsing still intuitively exists when diving though your collection by let’s say “Artist > Album > Song” but they did something clever by pulling out the very base of the ID3 browsing and put it in a “search” / find icon. This is clever because no matter where you are in the menu the find icon is at the bottom allowing you to jump back to selecting your songs by “All Songs”, “Album”, “Artist”, “Genre”, “Release Year”, “Playlists”, and “Folder”. Folder browsing is indeed there for those who like to keep their collection organized in folders thought drag and drop.
One of the problems even with these really nicely done touch screen players, scrolling through several thousand songs can still be cumbersome. Like many of their other Walkmans there is an alphabet at the top that allows you to quickly jump around in your library. It works a bit quicker than their other Walkmans since you don’t have to click up to the bar and highlight it- you simply sweep your finger back and forth on the bar with a little dialogue bubble showing you which letter you are selecting.
The now playing screen is well organized with all of you track information at the top, nice large album art in the center, progress bar at the bottom, and the consistent bottom menu below. What is also a nice addition to this is the forward, back, pause/play are transparently overlaid on top of the album art. These will appear with a light tap- though the nice thing is you still have them available as tactile buttons at the top. One fix here I would like to see would be the ability to turn this overlay off if you just wanted to use the hardware buttons. You can however just lock the touch screen. This would get rid of the overlay, but you wouldn’t be able to browse your music. Really, it’s not a big deal; it would just a nice little helpful tweak.
The now playing screen has a little bit of magic built in. If you tap on the album art and flick, it becomes an album art browser- allowing you to kinetically flip though all of your album art. Compared with other album art browsers this gives you more of a view a head by tilting the album covers in “Star Wars credits” kind of way. However, this feature is useless if you are missing a lot of album art in your collection.
Playlists & Bookmarks: This is a bit disappointing. No book marks or on the go playlists exist. You can still make playlists but they need to be created with a desktop media player.
The FM tuner is among some of the best tuners I’ve seen on MP3 players. The auto preset is quick and works very well and includes a high and low sensitivity setting. On high it picked up every station in my rural area on low it only picked of the two closest stations. From past experience I can imagine the low setting working very well in big cities. Flipping though presets and tuning your station is as easy as changing the channel on a TV.
Noise Canceling Headphones
I was surprised at how well these little ear buds canceled out background noise. I don’t have a lot of experience with noise canceling phones but from the few I have hear such as the overpriced Bose and Dr Dre headphones these perform better. Even when the music is paused the noise cancellation can be activated. If you have never used noise cancellation phones it can be a bizarre experience to have a switch to turn off your surroundings. When I first started testing the NC I flipped the switch and it sounded like my noisy air condition turned completely off- it worked that well. But what makes this set up a bit different from other noise canceling phones is it can be adjusted filtering out different types of sounds. There are three different environment settings: bus/train, airplane, and office- all having different effects on ambient frequencies.
There is also a level adjust between -15 and +15, but to be honest I don’t understand why its -15 when there still is a small level of noise cancellation going on when set at that. It seems as if this adjustment responds to different frequencies. For instance, when testing against my very loud dishwasher adjusting this slide created an audible hallucination dropping out the sound of the motor but the sound of the water splashing inside came into focus. So I guess the take away from this is that the noise cancellation of very good and very tweakable. As I write this, I’m very thankful for it set to +15 blocking out this horrible dirty hippie music blasting though a speaker above my head at the local café.
Cancellation vs Isolation: The cancellation on the Sony X-1000 no doubt works great; however, it’s about on par with some of the heavier noise isolation headphones such as the Shure SE530s or the FutureSonics Atrio M5’s. One of the advantages to these noise cancellation phones is that it can be quickly switched off to hear your environment around you. If you have ever worn the Shure SE530s you know that they are not a quick pair of headphones to put back in- though they are more comfortable.
Headphone Sound Quality: Aside from the noise cancellation the sound quality is impressive for a supplied pair of headphones. Similar to past headphones Sony has included, these will be really sweet for the bass head. The low end is incredibly rich and tight performing better than the Shure SE530s at that end of the spectrum. The bass they produce is very reminiscent of the Future Sonic Atrio M5s. However compared to the M5 or the SE530s anything above midbass lacks a lot of clarity and dynamics. If you like bass, you will not need to buy another pair of headphones and really if you not a fidelity snob, you will be more than pleased with the included IEMs. The model number on these phones is MDR-NC020 if you were curious.
Speaking now about the player itself, the sound quality is top notch as most Sony players are- but this one is my favorite. Its clean and even throughout the spectrum holding up well in the low end much like the Clip. What I really like about this player’s sound signature it is very neutral. Typically, Sony players sound a bit on the cold side or “too digital”. The X-1000 on the other hand is warmer, but not as warm as the Cowon S9- hence the neutrality. In terms of sound quality this player ranks up there with the Sansa Clip as one of my favorites.
EQ & Effects
The EQ has 5 bands +-3 with a “Clear Bass” bass boost. Works well, but I would have like to see more adjustability here with either more bands or adjustable frequency cuts. The clear bass boost works extremely well with the supplied headphones, but I found it to boost too much low midbass with the Shure SE530s- anything more than +1 is overdoing it.
In addition to the EQ there are a few VPT Surround set
ting. These are the typical “environment” settings like “Club”, “Live, or “Studio”. Personally I am never a fan of these and would never use them, but I will say that these are very well done and are the most natural I have heard on any player. There is even a “Karaoke” setting that works amazingly well with some music if you are into that kind of thing. I turned it on and the vocals dropped out almost completely. Sure it effects surrounding frequencies, but its impressive for an MP3 player.
Video looks great on the OLED screen- it’s nice and bright and pixel response is fast. It’s a small improvement over traditional LCD and nearly identical to an AMOLED screen on something like the Cowon S9.
Browsing your video collection is handled by a simple library list with the familiar find icon at the bottom allowing you to select the video folder you want to view. Tapping on the screen will reveal the transparent controls: the bottom menu, top touchable progress bar, and center skip, scan, pause/play buttons. The Cowon S9 and the Samsung P3 have a really cool scene selection that creates thumbnails for a specified interval – this allows you to quickly jump to scenes in really long video. The X-1000 has the same thing but takes it a step further by creating a kinetic coverflow of scenes instead of a thumbnail matrix. It’s very fast too, with the ability to select the segment intervals with and easy to touch top menu.
The worst part of this device is the lack of native video support; most content will need to be converted. This is a killer since its cheaper by $100 competitors, the Cowon S9 and Samsung P3, playback most of what you throw at it. As I mentioned before there are many free utilities to convert video, but depending on your computer CPU this can take as long as the video. Who wants to spend an hour or two converting a movie? Maybe I got spoiled with the P3 and the S9, but I really miss native video support on this player; it would have made is very well rounded.
The photo browser is what you would expect. Basic slide show browning with touch enabled so you can flick though your photos with the addition of thumbnail browsing and the ability to select which folder you want to browse. You won’t however find an auto playing slideshow that appear on many other players or a zoom function. There is one small hang up in the full screen slide show mode- the first time around it may be a bit slows since the player hasn’t had a chance to cache the thumbnail or optimized version for the screen. The time for it to load will depend on the file size as well, but once you flip though one time you no longer have any of these issues since it’s had a chance to cache them all.
Wallpaper: Under the photo menu you are able to select “set as wallpaper” for customization of the home screen. There is also a rather unique setting related to the wallpaper under the main settings that allows you to select a “dark” setting that slightly dims the wallpaper a bit so that lighter color wallpapers don’t drown out the icons- nice little touch.
The X-1000 is priced $100 above competing players such as the Cowon S9 and the Samsung P3, but this elevated price could easily be justified with the additional W-Fi features and a nice pair of noise canceling headphones. The headphones alone I feel add at the very least a $50 value to the player if you are not going to use you own. YouTube was less gimmicky than I had thought and will add to the player if that is something that interests you. For the US the addition of Slacker Radio may also help justify that additional price.
I found that there where are two very big disappointments, the lack of native video support and the sketchy podcast support. That part of the player feels unusually unfinished for Sony. The web browser may disappoint some people- it is not a comfortable experience on a small screen and T9 text input.
Despite the issues, I like the Sony X-1000 a lot mainly due to the fact that it’s an awesome music player. It has top notch sound quality and a very user friendly interface with a very accurate touch screen. The added tactile buttons pair nicely with the touch screen adding to the overall usability. Build quality is solid matching the P3 and surpassing the S9- it’s a very comfortable player to hold in your hand.
I personally like the X-1000 a lot and have found that I use it more so than the P3 or the S9 and I have only been using it for music paired nicely with the Shure SE530s. If you can justify that additional $100 price over the competitors then go for it. If not the Samsung P3 and the Cowon S9 may be just as impressive for you and have strong native video support.
You can pick up the Sony X-1000 for the best price at Amazon at the same time getting free shipping and avoiding sales tax. Amazon UK also stocks the X Series and Advanced MP3 players will ship anywhere in the world.
- Great Sound Quality
- Capacitive touch screen
- Great OLED screen
- Slacker Radio, YouTube, Direct Download Podcasts
- Solid design
- No Native Video Playback, Conversion is Neccesary
- Horrible Included Software
- Buggy Podcast Feature
- No multi-touch