The Sony Walkman NWZ-S718F is sexier than its name, thanks to top-notch sound, excellent in-ear headphones, and built-in noise cancellation. It also has an FM tuner, and like most recent players, it supports video. We prefer it to the iPod nano in many ways, especially given the identical price.
The matte black plastic player measures 3.2 x 1.6 x 0.5 inches with a 1.8-inch LCD and 8GB of flash memory. A Hold switch sits on one side and volume controls on the other. A switch on top activates noise cancellation, and the charge/sync cable plugs into a proprietary USB connector on the bottom. Below the screen are dual-function buttons for Back/Home and Option/Power, and the clickable D-pad has a Play/Pause button in the center. The layout is unexciting and slightly crowded, but it's easy to operate by feel.
Smooth, Easy Interface
The icon-based interface is easy to navigate, and we love the contextual menus invoked by the Option button. The Walkman's initial search lets you enter one character and then jumps to the spot in the album, artist, or song list that begins with that letter. You can't create playlists on the go, but you can load them via software.
Transferring files via drag-and-drop, Windows Media Player 11, or the included Sony Media Manager (Windows only) was simple and quick. The S718F shares a rare feature with the SanDisk Sansa Fuze: You can load it via drag-and-drop in Mac OS.
Audio support includes unprotected AAC, MP3, WMA, protected WMA, and WAV. The S718F is picky about video and photo formats, supporting only MP4/M4V and JPEG, and the included Sony Media Manager software doesn't do conversion unless you upgrade it for $12.95.
Sound and Video Quality
The Walkman's sound is excellent--even without activating any digital sound enhancers--with the included EX-series headphones, though they won't work with other devices because of a small pin on the side of the plug. Digital enhancers such as DSEE, Clear Stereo, and Clear Bass--and our Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones--made the player sound better than any player we've heard recently, but most of the virtual surround modes sound awful.
Our test video clip from 2 Fast 2 Furious was smooth and clear on the 320 x 240-pixel screen with good color and well-synced audio. You can toggle portrait or landscape mode for video and photos. The bass on Sonny Rollins' classic jazz gem "Tenor Madness" sounded impressively full and detailed, and the highs sparkled brilliantly.
The noise cancellation (powered by the player's battery) works only with the included earbuds, but it took the rumble out of our commuter train ride without adding much hiss. Battery life is impressive, at 33 hours for audio and 8 for video.
Sony Walkman NWZ-S718F Verdict
This is primarily a music player, and as such, it's the best-sounding flash-based model we've heard. It trumps the mighty iPod nano in sound quality, features, and battery life. Also, it works with both Macs and PCs via drag-and-drop and has useful extras, including an FM tuner, noise cancellation, and excellent earbuds. Unless you're wedded to iTunes, we highly recommend this Walkman.