By April 6, 2008

Sony A820 Walkman review

Can the new Sony A820 MP3 player restore the Walkman brand name to its former glory?


Back in the 1980’s everyone had a ‘Walkman’. The name itself was used to refer to all personal cassette players in much the same way as the iPod name seems to be used today to refer to all MP3 player devices.

The A820 isn’t Sony’s first Walkman branded MP3 player but previous models seem to have gone under the radar. In fact it wasn’t until i started my research for this review that I realised just how many Walkman branded MP3 players Sony had released over the past few years. So could this latest player be the one to put Sony back on the map?

Sony A820 Walkman

Sony A820 Walkman

What’s in the box?

If you’ve seen my Sony A820 Walkman unboxing video you’ll know that I’ve been looking at a pre-release version of the player that came in a plain white box. Although the A820 hasn’t made it to retail just yet you can expect to find the following in the box:

  • The Sony A820 Walkman
  • Sony EX headphones
  • Mains charger
  • USB Sync/charge cable
  • Software CD
  • Printed user guide
  • It has been suggested elsewhere that the A820 may ship with a set of bluetooth headphones although it’s not yet known if this would be standard equipment or if there will be a basic and a deluxe package.

    Sony A820 Walkman specification:

  • Sony EX series in-ear buds with 13.5mm drivers
  • 50.2 x 93.9 x 9.3 mm
  • 58 grams
  • 2.4″ QVGA LCD display (320 x 240 resolution)
  • Integrated FM tuner
  • Video playback of 30fps
  • 36 hours of battery life for audio playback
  • 10 hours of battery life for video playback
  • Built-in noise-canceling system (up to 75%)
  • Bluetooth A2DP technology
  • Compatibility with WMA-DRM, WMA, AAC, PCM, MP3, MPEG-4 and JPEG file formats

    The A820 is a fairly converntional looking MP3 player. We are obviously looking at the black version but once released the A820 will also be available in white, silver and pink.

    On the front of the A820 you’ll find the basic controls. There’s a d-pad style navigation control with play/pause button in the centre. Either side are the home/back and power/option buttons. These controls take up only a small amount of space below the 2’4″ QVGA display.

    Sony A820 Walkman controls

    Sony A820 Walkman controls

    The bottom of the device is home to the headphone socket which is a standard 3.5mm jack socket so you’ll be able to use your favourite headphones. Also on the bottom is the proprietary sync/charge connector.

    Sony A820 Walkman bottom

    Sony A820 Walkman bottom

    On the right of the unit are the other controls. Here you’ll see an up/down rocker for volume control, a bluetooth button and a lock switch. The bluetooth button enables the bluetooth connection to a paired device while the lock switch disables the other buttons to stop you accidentally turning the device on or off.

    Sony A820 Walkman right side

    Sony A820 Walkman right side

    There are no other buttons or controls on either the top or the left of the device.

    The only other button is on the rear of the device. It’s a simple reset button that you’ll need either a pin or a sharp pencil to press.

    Sony A820 Walkman back

    Sony A820 Walkman back


    When unboxing the A820 the first thing that struck me was just how small and light it is. It sits quite comfortably in the palm of your hand with all of the important buttons laid out so that you can reach them easily with your thumb. Although one thing to mention here is that the A820 is definitely designed for right handed use. Not a bit deal perhaps but the volume control is on the wrong side for left handed use. I mention this as I’m a lefty!

    As I mentioned earlier, the package I received from Sony was a pre-release PR model so the package contents will differ slightly to the ones supplied. For example there was no manual or getting started guide in the box I received. To be honest I didn’t really need these to get up and running. It’s pretty easy to plug in the USB cable and connect the player to a PC. Having done so the Walkman is detected as a media player device and I’m offered several options, one is to browse and upload music. All I did here was open the device up in My Computer and drag and drop the files on the music folder on the device.

    File transfer time was reasonably fast thanks to the USB 2.0 connection and despite me wanting to copy several gigabytes of sample music to the device this was done in just a few minutes. This is a good thing as this was the 16GB model, plenty of room for my limited music collection, but there will also be 8GB and 32GB models in the future.

    Once you power the device up everything is laid out in a nice simple format. The main screen has just 9 icons that you can navigate easily with the d-pad style control. The icons include settings, photos, videos, music and Bluetooth. Using the various options is quite intuitive.

    The other thing that impressed me about the package from Sony was the fact that a pair of Sony MDREX85LPB In-Ear Headphones were included. These really are excellent headphones and normally cost over £35 on their own, that said, these headphones actually out-performed my expensive Etymotic Research headphones to the extent that I went out and bought another set of the Sony’s. I just hope that Sony include these headphones in the retail package!

    Sony MDREX85LPB

    Sony MDREX85LPB headphones

    The Sony EX headphones, coupled with the A820 make a great combo. and I didn’t realise just how bad MP3s sounded on my old MP3 player until I used the Walkman. Despite using exactly the same MP3 files the Sony is seems much more capable of playing them back than some other players that I’ve tried. One of my colleagues commented that the sound was much clearer than his iPod Nano and asked where the Walkman could be purchased.

    The A820 isn’t just an MP3 player though. One of the reasons Sony has included a 2.4″ QVGA display on the device is that it’s also designed for playing videos. I have to say that the TFT display on the unit is striking. It’s bright, sharp and evenly lit.

    Having downloaded a few sample MPEG-4 files from the web I have to say that video play back is impressive, there are no signs of motion blur as a result of poor refresh rates. I’d also say that the screen quality surpasses that of the Sony PSP. Clearly Sony has learned something since they made the PSP!

    With 16GB of storage space at your disposal you’ll be able to get a fair few hours of video on there!

    Setting up the Bluetooth connection on the A820 is also a breeze. You simply go into the Bluetooth menu and create a partnership with your Bluetooth audio device. I used my Philips Stereo BT headphones and they worked very well. A few people asked me whether or not you can transfer audio files to the Walkman over a BT connection. I tried this a few times and wasn’t able to make this work. This is a time when the manual may have been helpful. I’m still not sure if you are supposed to be able to do this but I wasn’t able to.

    So on to the battery life. I used the A820 for just over 2 weeks for around 3 to 4 hours a day. During that time I only had to charge it twice. However, during the time I used it I didn’t use BT while listening to music so you should expect battery life to be quite drastically reduced if using BT and further reduced with video playback.


    The Sony A820 Walkman is a great example of a device where the whole really does exceed the sum of its parts. There are literally hundreds of MP3 players on the market but few offer such a comprehensive list of features and even fewer are able to excel in each department.

    I really enjoyed using the A820 but to be honest it’s been quite difficult to put my finger on the real reason that I like it so much. It’s fairly nice to look at, has a good screen, good battery life. It comes with excellent headphones and sounds great. The menus are easy to navigate and use and it’s dead easy to find that track you are looking for. Perhaps the real reason for liking the A820 is that it does all of the things mentioned above in such a small package weighing just 58 grams!?

    If Sony can release the A820 at a realistic price-point then I think it will be a winner. If its price in on a par with the likes of Apple and SanDisk then I will definitely be considering one myself!

    Review by: Matt

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    Posted in: Reviews

    About the Author:

    More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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