Peter Cho (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A friend brought back a Panasonic SJ-MJ7 from Japan. I was able to take a look at it, and have written my first impressions. I currently own a Sharp 301, Sharp 702, and a Sony MZ-R50 as well as having owned a Sharp MS-200. I have also fiddled around with the Sony E35 of a friend. So, I will include references to these units.
My overall first impression is that it is very well made, including the external battery pack and remote, but especially the external battery pack. On all the other units (such as the Sony E35, the Sharp 301, 702, and Sony MZ-R50), the battery pack sticks out like a sore thumb, rather ugly and bulky at the same time. But with the Panasonic, when you screw it on, it actually looks like part of the unit except that it is made out of plastic.
In addition, the case that comes with the Panasonic matches it very well. Although it might be a little big without the battery pack on the main unit, with the battery pack on, it fits very snugly. The cases (or should I say bags with a draw sting?) that came with the Sonys and Sharps are rather ugly, loose fitting, and not particularly high quality. But the Panasonic has a real case, slightly padded with a velcro flap. In general, I find that Panasonic has the best cases. My old Panasonic walkman had a good slip on case, and my current Panasonic Discman has an "ok" slip on case (nice material, but too loose fitting). The one that comes with the SJ-MJ7 is much nicer than what the other manufacturers include with their MD units.
The remote is fat and stubby. I don't think it looks as elegant as the ``stick'' remotes for the Sony MZ-R50 or E35. It's kind of toyish, like the Sharp remotes, but the build feels more sturdy and looks better. The remote is nicely made, and I think it was made with the user in mind. There is a button pad on top of the remote (reminiscent of the Sharp MS200 pad) where the center is Play/stop and the corners of the pad have other functions. The remote clip is also big and sturdy. I think functionally it is much better than the clip on the Sony remote (which is ok) and the Sharp (which is pretty weak). I didn't get a chance to play with it, so I can't really comment on the screen, except to say that it is backlit.
The unit itself is small, slightly smaller than the E35 and 301. It's thinner, and a little lighter. (You can check the precise specs.) The button layout is very nice. Although the buttons and the FF/RW switch are small, they are better layed out. I like it better than the Sony E35 (whose buttons are too tiny and bunched together) or the Sharp 301 (whose buttons are too big and easily pressed). "Hold" is on the side next to the open switch. The lid is rather stiff, and a little hard to open. I wish it was smoother. Also, although the Panasonic is made out of metal, there is a (plastic?) coating on the front that is very smooth. In general, the Panasonic unit looks more elegant to me than those of the other manufacturers. However, the unit only has 10 seconds of shock memory, so that might be a bad point for some people. But personally, I think for everyday use, it doesn't matter. BTW, if you're curious about the thinnest and lightest portable out there, that honor still goes to the Sony E50.
Unfortunately I didn't get to listen to it, but my friend says it sounds better than her Sharp MS200. I had a great first impression, and I would consider buying it over the Sharp 501/601/311/312, Sony E35, and Kenwood models. Also, the Panasonic name brand doesn't hurt. It is known in Japan as one of the best and most reliable manufacturers.