The Cowon D2 packs a lot of functionality into one very small device. It offers superb battery life and some powerful audio and video chops.The company'sname might not ring a bell, but this is one of the best flash-based PMPs yet.
While it has the same size 2.5-inch screen as a garden-variety 5.5G iPod, the solid-state D2 undercuts the hard-drive iPod's weight by 33 percent at 3.2 ounces. The Cowon unit looks pretty polished, with a pleasing two-tone gray-and-black color scheme and a design that's a dead ringer for a spiffier version of an iriver Clix.
The touchscreen interface is surprisingly simple to use. If it weren't for the fact that most functions took two touches to execute instead of one (one to highlight, one to confirm), we'd rate the experience as high as using Apple's Click Wheel. A stylus that doubles as a kickstand is included in the box, but we had no trouble using our fingertips. Our test unit was loaded with 4GB of flash memory, and you can add capacity using the SD/MMC slot.
Compatible with Windows Media Player 10 DRM music files, the D2 displays album art and has a built-in voice recorder and FM radio. The player's audio-contour options boggle the mind, with everything from a five-band graphic EQ to 3D Surround. We found that modest levels of EQ adjustment worked well, and we liked the natural-sounding BBE and Mach3Bass circuitry (again, a little goes a long way). When activated, these settings added significant presence and depth to the D2's otherwise subpar earbuds.
Video looked stunning on the D2, with subtle color shading and fast animation at 30 frames per second. We used the included JetAudio software to transcode our videos; an average 45-minute Heroes episode (without commercials) took up 118MB of space at the native 320 x 240-pixel QVGA resolution. The D2 wouldn't read our test MPG, ASF, or WMV files at all without the transcoding software, though AVI files with resolutions lower than 320 x 240 pixels played fine natively. Some videos exceeding that resolution actually crashed the unit (though reboots took only a few seconds). The D2 includes a TV-out connection, but no cable is included. Also, note that the D2 doesn't support any online video stores such as CinemaNow or Vongo.
Photos looked crisp and clear, and we liked the ability to play music along with our slideshow. The D2 lacks the sophisticated PMC 2.0-level abilities of the Toshiba Gigabeat S, however, which means the unit doesn't display song titles during slideshows, and you don't get smooth photo fades. Plus, each photo looked pixelated for several seconds before the D2's processor could render it properly.
Battery life was one of the D2's strong suits. This PMP didn't match its claimed ten hours of video playback, but it did last 8 hours and 20 minutes. That's about four times longer than the average 30GB 5G iPod, and much of the credit goes to the D2's flash memory.
The nano is still the best flash-bashed music player, but if you want the ability to play video and an ultra-light design, we say give the identically priced Cowon D2 a hard look. Its intuitive touchscreen interface, long battery life, and excellent sound quality make it a compelling PMP.
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