Most of the electronics we use on a regular basis aren't designed to be thrown in a swimming pool and survive. Sony's $98 NWZ-W273 Walkman Sports MP3 Player, was. This fact, along with their relatively low price, make it a tempting purchase for anyone worried about subjecting their smartphone, MP3 player or an expensive set of headphones to the sweat and casual abuse that can destroy most gadgets during the course of a workout or run.
The NWZ-W273 combine a set of earbuds and a 4GB MP3 player into a pair of plastic pods connected by a rubber wire that wraps around the back of the neck. Sony provides three different sizes of earbuds to ensure a secure fit. The whole package weighs roughly 29 grams.
In order to make the NWZ-W273 waterproof, Sony had to design the headset as a sealed unit, which means no mini or micro USB ports. Because of this, the NWZ-W273 ships with a specialized charging cable that doubles a dock for the headset. A 90-minute charge will net you eight hours of use – that's not bad. What's exceptional is that a three-minute charge will provide users with an hour's worth of use. For anyone like me that forgets to regularly charge their hardware, this is a killer feature.
The noise the NWZ-W273 funnels into your skull is controlled by a series of chunky buttons set into the bottom and back of the two pods. Play/pause, volume, shuffle, power and track control – all of the usual suspects – are there and easy to find while you're wearing them. There's no display to show you what track you're listening to or what function you've just chosen, but as the NWZ-W273 is designed to be worn on your ears and is therefore out of sight while you're using it, that's forgivable. Some of the less obvious commands you can give to the NWZ-W273 are verified by the MP3 player with an audio cue: so when you shuffle your music, access a playlist or change music folders, a voice will tell you that you've done so. The music you'll be shuffling through can be dragged and dropped into the NWZ-W273's flash storage via USB using a Windows or Mac computer.
What do they sound like? Well, not bad. But not great either. The NWZ-W273 provided a respectable amount of bass (something you want in a set of workout headphones so that you can keep a cadence while running or pumping iron) with decent mid-range and high-end sound too. Unfortunately, when confronted with tonally complex music, the NWZ-W273 can make things sound a little washed out. But remember, this is an all-in-one waterproof MP3 player and earbuds in a sub $100 package, not a set of high-end Bose or Sennheiser studio headphones. Considering everything else you get for your money from these things, I think that the lack of audio fidelity should be expected and is certainly forgivable.
Sony designed the NWZ-W273 to be waterproof up to a depth of two meters. That's good news for swimmers, and even better news for the anyone who wants to use them out of the water because that means there's little chance that rain, your sweat or a splash from your water bottle will kill them.
Unfortunately, while you can use them while you're swimming, you likely won't want to. I discovered that unless the fit in your ears is perfectly watertight, the volume and quality of sound you'll get out of the NWZ-W273 is diminished almost to the point of inaudibility as soon as you dive into the pool. With even a small amount of water getting between the earbuds and my ears, I was unable to hear much of anything, even after maxing out the headphones' volume. A pity.
Final Verdict: Sony's $98 NWZ-W273 Walkman Sports MP3 Player is a great pick for anyone looking for an affordable, rugged MP3 player to keep them company at the gym, on a jog or a long bike ride. But despite their being waterproof, they're a lousy companion for the pool.