Sony VAIO VGF-AP1 MP3 Player Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (24,758)

This is a notebook review site, and the Sony VAIO VGF-AP1 digital audio player is not a notebook by any means, but interestingly enough it does come from the Sony computer division rather than their consumer electronics division.  Since the VGF-AP1 has a 20-40 GB hard drive (as large as some notebook hard drives), has a color screen for viewing images, has a touchpad like navigation system and provides multimedia entertainment it does sport some notebook like features.  But think of the VAIO Pocket more as a complimentary product to your VAIO PC for enabling you to take all the MP3 music files you have on your notebook in your pocket with you.

VAIO Pocket VGF-AP1 Specs

  • 2.2″ QVGA Color Screen
  • 20GB Capacity (about 13,000 songs) or 40GB (about 26,000 songs)
  • High speed USB Interface
  • Stereo Headphone Connector
  • Cradle Connector
  • AC Adapter
  • Field replaceable Lithium Ion battery
  • 18 – 20 hour’s battery life
  • Remote Control with 2 line display
  • In-ear Headphones
  • 7.4oz weight
  • 4.5″ x 2.5″ x 1″ (W x H x D)

The portable digital audio market has been on fire for a while now, mostly because of Apple and their iPod offerings of course.  The iPod has been selling like hotcakes for well over a year.  Sony introduced the VAIO VGF-AP1 as their entry into the digital audio arena last year.  I’ve had a chance to play with this device for a couple of weeks and am here to offer some thoughts on this player.

Design

The build of the VAIO Pocket Player is superb.  The feel is high quality, and the presentation excellent.  The casing has a brushed metal look and is slightly textured for a better grip.  The ports on the side are small and hidden to keep the look clean.

The VAIO Pocket is a horizontally oriented player and is intended to be held in your right hand so that you can navigate controls with your right thumb.

The device is certainly quite large as far as MP3 players go, it actually weighs more than it looks.  At 7.4 ounces this is not the style of player you’ll be using to take jogging.  That’s not what this device is designed for though, jogging companion devices are reserved to flash based memory storage players.

The VAIO Pocket has an extra cool look due to two of its features.  The color QVGA screen and GPad sensor, which works somewhat like a touchpad with buttons on it, add a unique flare and extra usability factor to this device.

Screen

The QVGA color screen is very bright and has a fantastic color display for showing such things as album art, track listings and of course navigating through menus to select songs you want to play or images you’d like to view on the screen.  That’s right, the VAIO Pocket is more than just an MP3 playing device, it is also good for storing images on and taking on the road to show off.  With 20GB — 40GB of storage on the VAIO Pocket there should be plenty of extra room for the digitized family vacation album from the past decade.

The screen was easy to view in both indoor and outdoor lighting situations, this was aided by the fact text is large and easy to read on the screen.

Audio and Sound Quality

Sony claims 13,000 songs will fit on your player if you have the 20GB model and 26,000 songs for the 40GB model.  Before the latest firmware update, the VAIO Pocket required music files to be converted to ATRAC3 audio format, the software provided with the device automatically made the necessary file conversion when moving MP3 or WMA files over to the Pocket Player.  However, with the latest firmware, which is an easy download of one file from Sony, your device can directly play MP3 files — no file conversion necessary. 

The audio playback from the Pocket VAIO is crisp and clean.  The headphones that came with the device were standard rather cheap Sony headphones, so you should use something you have that’s better or invest in a decent pair of headphones to do the player justice.

Battery

Sony claims 20 hours of battery life for the VAIO Pocket, and in my use that was fairly accurate.  20 hours is really nice for a portable device.  No PDA, cell phone, laptop or discman has ever provided me with 20 hours of usage without a recharge, so this amount of battery life is a very happy thing.  The battery is not technically replaceable, meaning that Sony doesn’t provide a simple latch to pop it out and replace.  However, all it takes to remove the battery from the device is taking out two screws, and then you can slip a new battery in.  Sony says a technician should be used to do such a thing.  Since this device is rechargeable and you have 20 hours, it’s probably easy to just charge it every few days to keep the battery juiced, but it’s always nice to know that replacing the battery is a doable thing if necessary.

Cradle

The VAIO Pocket comes with a cradle for easy synch and charging.  The cradle has a cool look and functions well, the body of the cradle is plastic and a metal fold up stand provides stand up support when the VAIO Pocket is housed in it, and folds up for easy traveling.

Remote

The VAIO pocket comes with what I call a non-wireless remote to make control of the device easy when it is stowed away in your bag or pocket.  I find this remote hard to use, the two buttons on it rock back and forth and can be pushed in as an action input.  The backlight on the LCD display for the remote is cool and the LCD display will tell you what song is playing.  When the remote is plugged in you have to plug the headphones into the remote itself, I found that too many wires were involved when the remote was being used.  When will the day come where wireless Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth digital audio devices are the standard?  It can’t come fast enough in my opinion, I hate wires.

Synching and Connectivity

The VAIO Pocket can interface with computers, digital cameras and stereo equipment.  The device must be in its cradle for this to happen though.  Plugging the device into your computer obviously allows for transfer of audio files and images to the device.  Using the line-out to plug into your stereo equipment provides an easy way to play all of your digital audio files through those high-end surround sound speakers you also have (right?).

Another nice feature of the VAIO Pocket is that it can connect to any PC running Windows ME/2K/XP and be recognized as an external drive without any drivers. The VAIO simply shows up as a drive letter and you can drag and drop any sort of data files to it directly.  If you want to move music files you should use the included SonicStage 2.1 software that will intelligently convert music files if necessary.  You could also use Music Move 1.1 to move music files.  Music Move functions as an an applet that sits on your desktop and provides a really simple way of dragging and dropping files to your VAIO Pocket.

Input Controls

The Pocket VAIO uses Sony’s G-Sense technology.  The G-Sense is essentially a touchpad with little bumps on it.  You run your finger over this pad to move a cursor on the screen and when you want to select an action on the screen (such as “OK” for selecting you preferred language) then you push in on the closest “bump” on the G-Sense pad.  It’s fairly easy to use this pad, but it takes some getting used to.  I’m not so sure a rolling ball with push-in action or a simple trackpoint device (a la an IBM ThinkPad navigation style control) with push-in action wouldn’t have been easier as an input device, but the pad does look cool and of course Sony just has to be a little bit different and go their own way!

File Storage and Getting to Music

The VAIO Pocket allows you to group files and play them back in various ways, you can organize and play songs back via these various organizing functions:

  • Genre
  • Artist
  • Album
  • Group
  • All Songs
  • My History
  • Playlist

One cool feature is being able to view album art cover on your device and quickly navigating to that album using the G-Sense.  Visual types of people will enjoy that.

Firmware Update

Sony recently released their Firmware update 3.0 for the VAIO Pocket so that the player can finally truly be called an “MP3 Player”.  Reason being, before the Firmware update, the VAIO Pocket had to convert files to a format called ATRAC before they could be played.  But now with the firmware update the VAIO Pocket can directly play MP3 files.

The process of updating the firmware simply involves downloading a file from Sony (http://www.css.ap.sony.com/VAIO/download/summary.asp?Id=30970&Cat=VAIO%20Accessories) and then running this on the VAIO Pocket

Here’s a few things you’ll gain by doing the firware update (note, if you buy a recently made device it should already contain this update)

  • Direct support of MP3 files without conversion
  • New LCD backlight brightness and auto-power off settings
  • Gapless play between tracks
  • Album and group play enhancements
  • Skin features – new skins are included, and you can copy additional skin data files to the “VAIO_Skin” folder.
  • Lyrics view
  • Various display enhancements

Conclusion

The VAIO Pocket is nice, no doubt, it’s certainly up to Sony standards of design, quality and offering of style and unique features.  For me it’s a little too big at 7.4 ounces and there’s just no way I’ll ever achieve even filling half the hard drive with audio files.  For my needs a smaller flash based player that can store 512MB of music and be light enough to take a on a jog is much more appealing.

So this device is best described as being meant for true audiophiles and those that want a whole lot of functionality in their MP3 player and will be using it on a commute or casually walking.  Having a screen that can display album art, lyrics and various other information is a great feature.  Being able to interface with a stereo for lineout play back is great too.  The device is easy to use in conjunction with a PC and easy to use in and of itself.  So if you like the feature sets the VAIO Pocket offers, are a fan of the Sony brand and are willing to spend $450 or so on such a device then I can recommend the VAIO Pocket as a great portable audio device.

Pros

  • Color screen for viewing images and album art
  • Great design and quality build
  • Huge amounts of storage at 20GB or even 40GB means you’ll never run out of music
  • Great battery life at 20 hours per charge
  • Can be used simply as an external hard drive storage device

Cons

  • Bulky at 7.4 ounces, not possible for use as a workout device
  • G-Sense pad takes some getting use to
  • Have to use cradle to synch with PC or perform line-out to a stereo

Pricing and Availability


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