The Sony NWZ-S618F

Yeah, I know, it’s been “less than 12 hours”: since I asked for advice on which MP3 player to replace my dead iPod. I ended up dropping by the local electronics pusher on my way home from work, and had a look around. They had the YP-P2 in stock, but only the 4GB version, and seeing as it was quite a bit more pricey, only really offering the larger touch screen, I picked up a Sony NWZ-S618F instead.
I have now spent the whole evening mostly ignoring everyone around me, listening to it, and am offering my impressions
h3. The good
h4. Source code
I was a bit surprised to open the package, with a link to “Sony’s Source Code Distribution Service”: — the player seems to be running on some form of Linux. If now Sony could open up all of the source for the player, I’d be even happier.
Because the sound really is that ridiculously good.
h4. Mass-storage device
This was, as I mentioned, a prerequisite for me. I really don’t understand why any device can’t just act like one. It allows any application to interact with the device. This one does that (unless you are clinically insane, and want to put DRM-infested media on your device, in which case you’ll have to put up with Windows Media Player).
The size of the mass-storage is 8GB, quite enough for me to only rarely replace content on the device, and if I’m in a pinch, I can just delete a few GB and put other data there.
h4. The screen
While I have not yet tried to use the unit to view video, I only have good things to say about the screen: It’s clear, bright and vibrant, even on the lowest brightness setting, and is viewable from almost any angle. This is quite unlike other screens I’ve seen on similarily priced equipment.
h4. The physical interface
The iPod had exactly one redeeming interface component: The click wheel which offered an easy-to-use means of controlling the volume of the player. The Sony instead has dedicated volume buttons on the side of the unit which proves to be just as easy to use.
The other buttons on the device are easy to reach, easy to distinguish, and due to the way they are placed, the buttons are easy to reach, even when the device is sitting in your pocket, regardless of whether the unit is operated left or right-handed.
h4. The UI
The UI is no-nonsense: There is little in terms of fancy UI effects, and there is little distractions in terms of features. The layout also closely resembles what you find on a mobile phone, with a nine-item home screen, with the music library smack in the centre and selected, with lesser-used functionality placed in the corners, and other functionality such as the radio and video placed one click away. The color scheme is a light-text on dark background with colors used sparsely. I haven’t yet tried the player in direct sunlight, but I expect this to be fairly readable under such conditions.
h4. The earbuds
Really. The first thing I did to my now-deceased iPod’s earbuds after I tried them was to throw them away — they really sounded no better than nails on a chalkboard with any form of music, and it ought to be an offense for Apple to include them with a player.
The earbuds included with the NWZ-S618F on the other hand, are quite good, under the circumstances, for what they are: There is reasonable definition through the entire spectrum, and if you can stand earbuds and you don’t plan on spending some serious money, you can totally live with them. This is quite unusual, and very surprising.
h3. The ridiculously good
Ok. There is one aspect of this player that is ridiculously good, and this is the point where I started ignoring everyone: The sound.
My day-to-day headphones are a set of “Grado Labs SR60”: I connected these, and started playing. And I didn’t stop. I played through Metallica, Roger Waters, Kruder & Dorfmeister, a bunch of stuff you’ve never heard about, and some stuff I might not want to admit listening to. And I totally forgot I was wearing headphones. The NWZ-S618F offers clarity and definition throughout the entire spectrum, and quite unlike my last PoS, it allowed the bass on the Grados to shine, I could again hear details I knew were there, but were missing from the iPod playback.
For those that live in the vicinity. If you see someone wearing Grados, that’ll quite probably be me.
h3. The bad
So, no complaints? Well, yes, but I don’t really know if I can blame Sony for all of it. The problem is described in “Bug #209483”: on launchpad: The player flat out refuses to mount in Hardy, and mounts fine in Gutsy, even if it spits a lot of error messages into @/var/log/messages@.
And, oh. I don’t think there is any excuse for any device in 2008 to use a proprietary connector. This one, like way too many devices has one, and to top it off, it feels just a bit flimsy and awkward – it fits only one way, but it’s nearly impossible to tell without looking at the logo on the connector. Do not operate while drunk or blind.
My final “complaint” does not relate directly to the product itself, but rather the packaging. It’s difficult to open, and has about a metric ton of leaflets inside. I’d advise getting rid of half of the paper the next time around, and then making it into a booklet instead of leaflets in six languages. While I had no real need for the manuals, I can imagine someone wanting to consult it feeling a bit frustrated by having to locate a leaflet and a booklet in their own language in the metric ton of paper shipped with the device.
h3. Conclusion?
Overall, it gets a definitive thumbs-up from me. Very good screen, very good UI — focused at that one thing: Playing music, and it has a well-balanced feature set. And it sounds from “good” with the default earbuds to “ridiculously good” with a good pair of headphones. If your interest is primarily in playing music, you should look no further: It essentially leaves anything I’ve heard in the dust (Including the Cowon players I’ve tried)

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  1. Sony audio output devices (ie. headphones, earphones, etc) are definitely quite good. My brother has an old Walkman CD player that he initially bought for my mother at least five years ago and he’s still using the same headphones that came with it, guarding them jealously. They’re starting to look quite ratty by now, but he doesn’t care.