Cowon O2 review

£205
Price when reviewed

Apple seems to have the high end personal media player market sewn up with its touch and “>iPhone completely dominant, but there are still some manufacturers trying to compete. Korean firm Cowon is one such company and it hopes to persuade enthusiasts that its high-end O2 media player is the one to choose over Cupertino’s finest.

The hardware doesn’t make a good first impression. Just one look at the plasticky chassis and bulky dimensions – the O2 measures a bulky 120 x 74 x 18.6mm (WHD) – will be enough to put off anyone who cares about the way their gadgets look very quickly.

In terms of raw specifications there’s nothing that groundbreaking about the O2 either: 16GB of flash memory is generous but not outstandingly so, the 4.3in, 480 x 272 resistive touchscreen is colourful and clear, but no better than the iPhone or touch’s displays. And if you want to play games or browse the web over a WiFi connection, you’re better off with an Apple device.

But if all you want to do is play downloaded video and audio without having to jump through hoops, then the Cowon is certainly worth a look. The reason? Its file format support is incredibly broad. The number of audio formats its supports natively is simply mind-boggling: not only can you play the usual WAV, WMV, MP3 and AAC, but also OGG Vorbis, FLAC, ASF, Apple Lossless, MKA, TTA, MPC and WV.

And the sound quality is outstanding, better for our money than the Apple iPod devices. We’d replace the bundled earphones with something better, however.

More important than this, however, is that you’ll be able to simply drag and drop video files to it without converting them with far more regularity than with most other media players. Again, the list is extremely impressive, with AVI, WMV, ASF, MP4, MATROSKA(MKV), OGM, MPG/MPEG, DAT, MTV formats and DivX, Xvid, MPEG-4 SP/ASP, WMV 9/8/7, H.264, M-JPEG and MPEG 1 codecs all supported.

It’ll even play back 720p files, although a quick test with a high definition WMV file showed this is little more than a tickbox feature, with far-from-smooth frame rate. Still, at standard definition and below, every video file on that compatibility list we threw at the O2 played back successfully and was very watchable indeed.

Elsewhere, there are a couple more notable features. First on the list is memory expandability via an SD card slot on the left hand side of the device, though this isn’t everything it seems – you can’t play media from it, just transfer files to and from the internal 16GB memory. There’s also a built-in microphone, speaker and a TV output, though the AV cables for the latter, disappointingly, aren’t included in the box.

Despite these small niggles, though, the sheer flexibility of the O2 has us won over. Though it doesn’t have luxuries such as Wi-Fi, an accelerometer, a library of games or the sumptuous design of an iPod touch, it is hugely capable and not overly expensive either.

Basic specifications

Media player storage type Flash memory
Capacity 16GB
Screen size 4.3in

Battery life

Audio battery life 18hrs
Video battery life 8hrs

Other features

USB charging? no
Screen size 4.3in
Resolution 480 x 272

Dimensions

Dimensions 120 x 18 x 73mm (WDH)
Weight 205g

Audio codec support

MP3 support yes
WMA support yes
AAC support yes
OGG support yes
FLAC support yes
ATRAC support no
WAV support yes
ASF support yes
AIFF support no

Video codec support

DivX support yes
XviD support yes
H.264 support yes
WMV-HD support no
WMV support yes
AVI support yes
MP4 support yes

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