The market for PMPs is not as happening as it is for cellphones. However, Cowon has been steadily launching quality portable media players for a while now. Their latest offering, the iAudio 9 is a sleek portable media player that excels in media playback but is saddled with average touch based controls.
Design & Features
This skinny portable media player is much thinner and sleeker than the latest iPod Nano. It has a white plastic body and the front is mostly taken up by the LCD screen and the capacitive touchpad. The TFT screen is 2-inches, displaying QVGA resolution and is just good enough to view the playlist or album art but not videos. Below the screen is a capacitive touchpad which serves as the main controls for the player. It has an unusual pattern with a diagonal touch sensitive strip for scrolling like what we’ve seen in the iAudio7. Those who used the iAudio7 earlier would not find much of a problem with its controls. But for first time users, it will take awhile to get used to, especially for blind-operation. I found no reason why Cowon had to go for this rather odd touchpad over the trusted tactile buttons as it does not make the user experience any better. The body has just two physical buttons on the right for power and menus while the left sport a volume rocker. There is a headphones jack at the bottom and a proprietary port instead of a microUSB which means you have to stick with the bundled cable and nothing else.
We received the Cowon iAudio 9, 4GB version (8GB and 16GB versions are also available) and there is no option to slot a card in for more memory. It plays a wide range of audio/video formats that includes FLAC and XviD support apart from popular formats like MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, APE and WMV. There is a TV-out function as well but no cable is included. The rest are pretty much standard features already found on previous Cowon products- like FM radio, voice recording via its onboard microphone, photo viewer and document (TXT) viewer and an onboard mono speaker.
For better and richer audio experience, Cowon has loaded the iAudio9 with a host of enhancements that includes a massive 35 presets and 4 user presets. Its latest DSP, the BBE+ and Jet Audio 3.0 sound effects that includes BBE, Mach3Bass, MP3 Enhance and 3D Surround are the driving force behind all these enhancements. The player has a claimed battery life of 29 hours for audio playback or seven hours of video playback time.
The device booted up in 2 seconds flat and the 2-inch screen is sharp and vibrant. The UI is straightforward but accessing common features like play order, bookmark etc. is a little complicated because of the unusual touchpad pattern. It would be much better if Cowon just threw in the tried and tested 5-way directional navigational pad or just offered a full touchscreen interface altogether.
Apart from the rather non user- friendly navigation controls, when it comes to media playback, the iAudio9 shines. I just dropped in one full Xvid movie and a bunch of FLAC files and the iAudio9 played them effortlessly without requiring any conversion whatsoever.The bundled earphones lacked punch but they sounded quite warm and bright.
In our audio playback test, the Cowon iAudio 9's sound quality is quite commendable. It may not have the same low-end punch and loudness like the iAudio D2+, but the amount of details it delivers across different frequency ranges is admirable. Vocals sounded crisp and clear and highs were sharp and detailed. Bass punch was also impressive and tight. When compared with the iPod Nano, the iAudio9 sounds warmer and punchier while the Nano has brighter highs and mids. It also has enough power to drive most midrange in-ear phones. Overall, the sound quality is very good and it also has a plethora of enhancements to let you tweak the sound to your liking.Our test video clips looked sharp with great details on its miniature screen. Its FM Radio also offered good reception and so was the sound recorded including the voice.The battery lasted for 11 hours of audio playback approximately which is decent.
Priced at Rs. 7,000, the Cowon iAudio 9 is a bit costly but it packs a lot of features and has a very good sound quality.
The Cowon is slim, lightweight, and power-packed and offers respectable sound. Make sure you are comfortable with the touchpad first though.