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Review of MP3-player Sony S200 Series
In its range of portable audio Sony traditionally focus on sporty devices that are meant for exercising or any adventures you might happen to get involved in. Another wave of models that has finally made it to the market, keeps this trend up with the S200 Series. Though, they had enough of insight not to equip it with flashy trim or rubber-coated casing, since most people own one player, and they don’t hang out in gyms all the time. Thus the player’s look should more or less fit in various environments, rather be a highly tailored and this is seemingly what the developers had in mind.
This has resulted in a quite interesting form-factor, sharing commonality with the aged Music Clip models and their successors: lengthwise prolonged casing, narrow display and wrist strap. The prestige and “seriousness” of the model are spotlighted with metal details in the casing, you should even waste time on drawing parallels with the S700 series – they are pretty much obvious as it is. The same holds true for the color solution, as the player employs safe combination of silver and black, which lends the S200 staid and stylish look, that any device aiming primarily at adults, brand followers should have.
Just like Sony usually does, the series includes three editions of one and the same player, differing only in the volume of built-in memory. Each of the various receives its own alpha-numeric index, unique for every member of the line-up, I already broke down this topic in the S700 Series review. Hence, the S202 stands for 512 Mb onboard, the S203 – for 1 Gb, and the S205 comes with 2 Gb inside. It is remarkable, what prevented the designers from releasing a 4 Gb unit – technology-related limitations of the skinny casing or just the point of view of the company’s marketing analysts? These days, such capacity is no longer within “hi-end” class, belonging rather to advanced “middle class”, as far as flash-players are concerned. So if Sony is intending this model for a long run, then some day we will see a more capacious edition. And if not, then something similar, yet with more memory inside, is scheduled for a forthcoming release.
Incidentally, they have gone further than just the sporty image alone – respective functions were not left off the board either. The S200 comes included with a special hydro-sensor - G-Sensor, that calculates number of steps made, calories burnt and distance covered, at that the owner may provide the player with his/her weight and height, step size and running pace to get more precise figures. Apart from all that, there is a stopwatch onboard, that will come in handy whether you are setting up a mini-competition, or trying to figure out how fast you are.
In all other respects the S200 Series matches functionality-wise the current line up of this time-proven corporation: MP3, WMA, AAC and ATRAC playback and FM-radio. Other capabilities, like those that have already become par for the course for players, like sound recording via the line-in or radio are not implemented here. Attention: only models with S2XXF indexes retain an FM-tuner, those without “F” in the title don’t sport one.
Like we have already said, the player’s casing is made chiefly of metal, except for the plastic display framing and the swiveling switch. In terms of the shape, the casing of the S200 looks more like a 10 cm long tube (if you want numbers, then 96 mm), 1,5 cm thick with a screw nut tacked on it. The screw here is naturally the multifunctional switch.
We should do justice to the S200, as against the backdrop of its competitors, the player is a winner – first of all, due to the form-factor it employs, as the market simply can’t offer equally thin (and long) players. Sony has managed to come up with a player that is second to none in terms of looks, which is an incredibly rare occasion these days, in view of the bottomless creativity of Korean and Chinese designers, whose mind has twisted and bended players seemingly in every last possible way.
The build quality is nothing we can complain about – the smaller a casing gets, the sharper you feel its flaws. All details are set tightly to each other; gaps are very tiny and become visible only if you stare at them for a few seconds. The swiveling switch feels a tad spongy, but it is due to its design traits alone.
Since the casing is actually round, I find it very challenging to specify its face, rear and sides, thus I will consider the display as the front fascia. If you turn the player in the way when the screen is right in front of you, the fingers of your right hand grasp the shuttle switch, then the layout of controls will be as follows. On the right of the display are some keys, more of which in the following part of the review. Then there is the shuttle switch, whose length makes up more than a centimeter and thus it seems quite wide. Further right is the Sony logo. The right spine houses the audio jack that obviously resembles that of the S700 Series. In its turn the left-hand side plays host to the flap-covered USB socket. At that there are not many players out there that have so well-designed flap – first, it has a rotary lock, meaning that to detach it and get to the socket itself, you will have to turn the cover as the marking on it requires and then take it off, but that’s not all – this hood is linked up with the casing via a rubber hinge that looks reliable and by no means loose.
Under the hood is a standard USB socket, unlike the proprietary WM slot used in the S700 Series in particular. Sony pins much hope on this socket, as it should make for easy connection with home and car audio, stereo systems, cradles and other accessories. Though, missing WM-port in the S200 Series does not necessarily mean that they are not serious about them or don’t expect any robust sale rates from them – basically, a casing that tiny doesn’t have enough space for it.
The rear, or better the say, the side opposite to the display, features player data with nothing you can make use of on it. Though next to the right spine is a metal eyelet for carrying strap, which will seem useful to some.
Perhaps most of your quality time with the S200 Series you will spend managing the swiveling switch, although buttons are still involved in the process. The shuttle switch is a typical control for Sony-branded players, being their unique trait. In its time Samsung was after the same mechanism, though that did no better than one model. Over at Sony, though, they have been employing this solution for a couple of years now. The switch serves for navigation through the menu and memory contents, jumping between tracks and locking controls. It has three positions: the switch rotates around the casing up and down by a couple of millimeters and moves along it and can snap in one of the three levels. At the bottom it locks controls, in the middle – switches tracks and when at the top allows browsing folders.
In terms of ease-of-use this switch doesn’t give you a hard time – both its form and size are well matched. Sitting at the top and the bottom are a dent and a ridge respectively, they have actually a twofold purpose – first to allow for a better grip and then tell you which position the shuttle switch is currently in.
The swiveling switch feels a tad spongy both horizontally and vertically, but it is due to its design traits alone.
Despite being small-sized, the buttons are easy to deal with. The volume rocker as well as the play/stop button is especially handy thanks to having protruding ends.
The player management is quite straightforward and won’t take plenty of getting used to. At that you can clearly feel that Sony has its own vision of what an MP3-player’s controls should be, that doesn’t match any of its competitors’ most popular offerings.
Display and menu
When designing a player housed in an offbeat form-factor, one of the main tasks that pop ups, is the type of the display to do for and what’s the best way of installing it. Sony set its choice on a narrow oblong monochrome display. Inverted picture (turquoise letters on black background) is many times easier to read from a tiny display, that’s probably what they had in mind. In the sun the image gets washed out, but not heavily enough, so that you can always read it especially if you set the display at an angle. By the way, since the display naturally has flat surface, while the casing it sits on is curved, the horizontal viewing angles were significantly worsened, making you try various positions to figure out the most comfortable one. In all other respects, the display is a cinch to use, it does the job, and that’s pretty much all that you could expect from it. The fact that it is actually a one-color display, rather than multi-color, is more of an advantage here – many vendors tend to arm their solutions with color screens at any cost, and in the end, the users have to stare at those to read something.
The S200 Series’s is laid out in the same way as that of the S700 Series. The player's main menu is viewed as simple monochrome thumbnails. The horizontal menu layout is nicely tuned to fit in the controls scheme based on the swiveling switch, at least I didn’t experience any hardships managing it. Due to lower vertical resolution, the icons have no captions on the fact it, but once you stay on one particular item for about a second, a caption pop us, occupying a half of the display’s real estate. The menu is well-optimized for browsing with the shuttle switch, no reason for quarrels here.
Menu constituents: Search, Sports Mode, Stopwatch, All Songs, FM, Playlist, Settings.
Search. Navigation through tracks by: track title, artist name, album title.
Sports Mode. The player goes into Sports mode, then over the set target time, the player tracks all required parameters.
All Songs. Initiates playback of all tracks stored in the player.
FM. Switches into FM radio mode.
Playlist Select. Enables loading a playlist
Settings. Allows setting up all features of the player. Includes the following sub-menus: Play Mode, Equalizer, Counter Reset, Count History, Advanced Menu, Sort.
Play Mode. Choose playback mode here: standard, only current folder, repeat all, repeat folder, random, random in a folder.
Counter Reset. Resets the steps counter, distance traveled and calories burnt counters: daily, never, right now.
Advanced Settings. These lead to: date, time, power saving mode, AVLS, volume control type. Also, via this menu you can check out system information and adjust USB connection, turn on/off the G sensor, change display mode, enter weight and height, walk and run strides.
The player’s menu is laid out in a logical way, all items are very easy to find, so that you won’t end up running around the sub-menus, searching for a particular feature. Also, the S705F houses many settings and functions that players, other than Sony-branded ones, don’t have.
Power management and PC connectivity
The player is powered by a built-in Li-Ion battery. In view of tiny size of the player’s casing and its offbeat design, it was hard to expect the S700 Series-esque records from it. Quoted battery life for MP3 128 Kbit/s off a single charge makes up 17 hours, which is quite competent result, though in practice the S200 stays online for less time – when tested, it lasted about 13 hours, though you should take into account that we were constantly coursing between all functions of the device while playing back tracks with high bitrate.
The battery is charged via USB connection, the same means are used for synchronization with PC. Unlike the S700 Series, that come armed with a proprietary WM-port interface, the S200 Series, like we mentioned above, enjoys a standard socket.
For the purposes of uploading music and album art onto the player you are limited to the company’s very own application - Sonic Stage, this time, version 4.0, but we tested the S200 with version 4.2. Data transfer speed via Sonic Stage is roughly the same as that for direct upload, tracks don’t get converted into ATRAC format, which is obviously a step up for Sony, that was quite predictable, though. However we got frustrated by the fact that the application refused to move an MP3-mix composed by a DJ, who was a friend of mine, onto the player – the reason was inability to find copyright information. Though, I’m swaying towards blaming some kind of error here, as similar mixes by other DJs were successfully added to the player’s music library. Maybe, that file just lacked some metadata this application required or something.
FM-tuner, sound quality
The bundled turner sports standard features, at least for a portable device: auto and manual tuning, ability to save radio stations (30 slots which is quite enough) and switch between them. The reception quality is somewhat average, even though it is okay for picking up most stations, but only in radio-friendly conditions. On top of that with the S200 you can avail of a rare and maybe the trademark ability to “stop” radio broadcast by pressing the Stop button – in some cases it may come in handy, aside from that, we are just happy this feature is in here.
The default headphones, judging by design, have come from the times long past, when the company was dominating over the market of cassette players. At least the bundled earphones of my first Sony-branded players that I got in 1996 looked exactly in the same way and delivered pretty much identical sonic experience. To the company’s credit, it has always packed the players with fairly good headphones, which were never replaced by another model, unless they were faulty, of course. In case with the S200, the earphones are made of black plastic, boast tiny dimensions and typical ear-bud style from Sony. The sound they output is quite adequate for an out-of-the-box unit, the first thing you come across is solid low frequencies, which is what only few bundled headphones can show off. As for the rest, they put up even performance for middle and high frequencies, which sound softly without hurting your ears. Their ability to resist overloads, specifically top volume level, without allowing distortions or creaking noises to sneak in, was much appreciated. However, the player itself is not the top performer in terms of playback at full blast.
The sonic experience we gained with the S200 Series is quite good, with the player’s sounding being typical for Sony’s players – beloved by thousands of music aficionados globe-over this is probably what company should be thankful to for securing a weighty share on the market of personal audio, whereas other giants of the past are struggling for tenths of percent. The S200 sounds very juicy, deep-voiced and clear, which especially goes for mid and high frequencies that are reproduced very softly without the sharpness MP3s have. In the beginning this might confuse you a little, making you think that the music sound a tad muffled. But then you come to realize that your ears have just got used to shrill highs.
We tested the player with various music styles – from rock-n-roll to d-n-b – and some headphones models: bundled, KOSS Porta Pro, V-Moda Bass Freq. Back on the upside, the player sports a five-band manually manageable equalizer, and if you don’t really want to play around with all these settings, you can always go for one of the five presets.
Sony has come up with a decent sporty player for though who actually don’t go in for sports. To be more precise, this model caters for a very broad audience, at that, athletes and just fans of jogging around are not at the frontier. Many find unusual skinny tube-shaped casing appealing, some have been following this brand for years, and the others just like portable players. Staid design, characterizing the S200 Series and the S700 Series (which we covered lately), adds some more points to the model in potential consumers’ eyes. The strong spots of the player – decent “trademark” sound, stylish design, pocketable casing, and competitive price. We failed to find any crucial shortcomings, though, so all we have left to do is make digs at software managers, in the form of Sonic Stage, one more time.
In Moscow the S205F carrying FM-tuner and 2 Gb of memory onboard today has a price tag of 170 USD.
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