The year 2020 seems more about nostalgia than anything else, especially for the kids of the 1990s.
Old phones are making a comeback in new avatars (we're talking about the Moto Razr (not Nokia, as it's long gone, and people have moved on), Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag opening the innings in a cricket match together, even if not for the national team (in the Road Safety World Series), and yes it’s happening: the F.R.I.E.N.D.S cast is reuniting for an exclusive special on HBO Max.
One might wonder... what's the deal with Sony? Why would it launch a Walkman in the streaming age? We had the same question, so we spent a month with Sony's first Android Walkman and tried to find the answers.
I do not have one of the sharpest memories when it comes to dates, but if it serves me right, it was in 2003-2004 that I first noticed a Walkman and demanded one from my family.
The modern Walkman (left), and the old Walkman (right)
A few months later, I was the proud owner of one, thanks to the good marks I secured in school exams (as is the norm in middle-class Indian families).
It was a Sony WM-FX481 and I missed no opportunity to flaunt it wherever I could. But little did I know that having a Walkman is one thing, but to make full use of it requires cassettes, too.
Even though I had the option to tune in to FM Radio, I was too impatient for that. I couldn't wait for my favourite music, which meant I had to purchase cassettes, which meant plenty of money, and therefore saving daily/weekly allowances, and cutting down on Tekken 3 and other pleasures from routine.
So, I found a short-cut: I struck a deal with my brother under which he would fund these cassettes in lieu of getting to use the Walkman sometimes. And there it was, Backstreet Boys Greatest Hits. We spent Rs 125, which is almost equivalent to the amount required to buy a Vinyl now.
The Walkman would run on batteries, and no matter how much we had, it always felt less (even Duracell wouldn't last much). And that became a bone of contention in the deal, as nobody mentioned who would pay for them. We learnt the lesson that there always are terms and conditions.
Years later, technology made things easier, and Walkman went digital. That meant, you didn't have to struggle for batteries or pay for cassettes; you could just store so many songs in music players.
And then arrived mobile phones pitched at music lovers; they made people forget both the Walkman and music players.
The mobile phones — Moto Rokr, Sony Ericsson W series and Nokia music edition — became a symbol, and the writing then was on the wall for music players. Yet, Apple's ipod breathed a new life and brought back the lost glory for music players.
But people started drifting away soon, as feature phones were not just playing music but also taking photos.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Cut to 2020. Sony has managed to surprise everyone with an Android Walkman. But the question is, who would buy a Walkman in the streaming age, with mobile phones offering everything that a Walkman can possibly offer, and more.
The moment I held the Walkman in my hands, I thought it's a midget version of Xperia phone (if it was, I would have purchased it without a second thought).
When the device came to life, I saw the familiar 'Walkman' logo on the screen and I couldn't control the excitement.
Then came the regular Android skin with familiar icons, and it hit me hard to discover that time had taken its toll on Walkman, too. It had changed indeed — for the better or worse, we were yet to know.
The new 103-gm Walkman has a 3.6-inch touch display (1280 x 720 pixels) with bezels on top and sides. There are seven buttons on the right, including a 'hold' button that was present in earlier Walkman versions, too.
The screen may not seem crisp and the colours don't appear punchy enough. But that's that.
The physical buttons add to the ease as they allow you to power on the device, adjust volume, skip song, play forward or backward and there's a 'hold' button that locks the settings.
The bottom houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C port and a slot for micro SD card.
Is micro SD card important? Yes, it is. You'd need one as the Walkman has only 16GB storage... and remember that the modern Walkman also supports apps like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The rear has the 'Walkman' logo and NFC for pairing with wireless audio devices.
I checked the price tag and it read Rs 23,990. I checked the price again and it read the same. So, it is more expensive than Apple's iPod. Would the device be worth that cost?
I thought of ditching my phone for a day (for social media and music) and see if I can replace it with the Walkman.
It's safe to say that it would have been, if the Walkman's battery had allowed it to (the same old battery issue). It leaves a lot to desire.
I loved the experience of having this tiny device that fits into your hands and dedicated for music. I even started reading an e-book on the device which felt something new.
Also, the best part was the detox from social media did take some shape since the Walkman has limited features to support heavy use, including the absence of a camera.
I loved carrying the Walkman during my daily run, cycling and workout sessions, and I never missed the phone.
But these aren't even the important points. What matters the most to audiophiles (not sure if I qualify as one), is the sound quality. Sony claims that it offers high-quality sound, something the fancy smartphones of the day are incapable of.
Now, here's the problem. By sheer habit, you'd be inclined to use Spotify, Google Music or even YouTube to listen to music, but the quality of audio from these apps is limited to 16-bit in the device.
To make the most of the Walkman, you'd have to save the songs in the music player (just like good ol' days) and that's something we all aren't used to anymore.
Not just that, you'd need a good set of headphones or earbuds to use the Noise Cancellation or Ambient Sound features. Luckily, I had them. I must admit that the details in Hi-resolution sound were simply beyond what we usually listen to — minute guitar pieces in the back with the bass line that we usually miss in normal formats — the experience was overwhelming.
But at the end of it, city life is such that we just can't do without a smartphone. And there I was, back with my smartphone.
So, I did try to make space for the new Walkman, and I still wish I could, but a lot has changed since we last used the Walkman's classic avatar. The Walkman is good if you want a dedicated go-to device for music, but overall it may seem a bit irrelevant and way too expensive for today's time.
P.S. Sometimes I still wonder if I could get my old Walkman repaired and play cassettes on it.