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Cowon A5 review
What is it?
Cowon's answer to Apple's iPod touch and Samsung's Galaxy S Wi-Fi
Exceptional audio quality; bright, vivid 4.8-inch screen; superb battery life; wide audio and video format support
Clunky, bulky design; resistive touchscreen; fussy controls on the front panel; no app market; unremarkable performance
The bottom line
Too bulky and outdated to seriously rival Samsung and Apple, despite its exceptional market-leading audio quality.
Cowon describes its new A5 as a "smart PMP", which basically means it's an Android-powered hybrid with an emphasis on media. That means you get to enjoy Cowon's renowned sound quality with all sorts of extras thrown in.
The five-inch touchscreen is bright and crisp, renders video beautifully and at first glance looks the bee's knees thanks to Cowon's elegantly skinned implementation of Android 2.3.
Sadly the interface is sleeker than the unit itself, which is surprisingly chunky considering there's no platter-based hard drive inside. Even allowing for the impressive battery, it's far too bulky and heavy, and you'll constantly be aware of its presence even if you find a coat pocket large enough to accommodate it.
The unit has the usual array of ports and controls, including a microSD slot to complement the onboard storage, hidden away behind a flap with the micro HDMI and USB ports. The power switch doubles as a lock and standby button, allowing you to kill the 4.8-inch resistive touchscreen in order to get that impressive 40-hour battery life when listening to audio.
Yes, we said resistive -the second major blot in the A5's copybook. Compared to the competition, its touchscreen is clunky and unresponsive, making it fiddly and awkward to use. Things aren't helped by the overly fussy touch-sensitive controls that seem to have a life of their own, buzzing and throwing up menus one minute, then refusing to acknowledge your thumb press the next. If it's a software issue, it's something Cowon should have resolved before bringing it to market, although a future firmware update might improve matters.
Video playback on the A5's 4.8-inch screen is bright and crisp, and thanks to a wide format support will work with just about any video file you throw at it - you can even use it to play full HD movies through your big-screen TV, although you'll have to supply your own cable.
Audio support is similarly broad with audiophile-friendly formats like FLAC supported. The exceptional audio quality associated with Cowon's products is in evidence here, backed up by its renowned JetEngine audio settings. There are a dazzling number of presets alongside a bank of user-tweakable settings, all of which make a noticeable difference to the sound.
Sadly, you'll need to pair it with a decent set of headphones - the supplied buds are adequate, but the less said about the weedy, mono speaker the better, particularly when it's blocked by your left hand as you hold the A5 to watch video.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cowon's implementation of Android is media-biased, but despite the presence of excellent music, video and FM apps, the lack of an app store (you'll have to download APK packages manually) and the narrow range of pre-installed apps prove this is first and foremost a media player.
While there's no doubt that Cowon has brought its enviable sound quality to the party with the A5, if all you want is a decent music player, you can save yourself a bundle and opt for the Cowon i10 instead. The real conundrum is deciding whether or not you're happy to compromise on just about every other aspect of the device in order to get a Cowon music player in an internet-enabled media player.
For us, while video support is decent and the screen reasonably bright, the outdated technology, fussy controls and clunky design all detract just that bit too much in a battle with more established competition.
Rival smart PMP players
Inferior audio; smaller screen; better all-round device: iPod Touch
Android 2.3-powered; 4.2-inch capacitive touchscreen; decent audio and video; poor battery life: Samsung Galaxy S Wi-Fi 4.2
Expansion: microSD, up to 32GB
Screen (size, type, resolution): 4.8-inch colour TFT, 480x800 pixels
Audio formats supported: MP3, WMA, M4A, OGG, WAV, ASF, FLAC, APE
Video formats supported: AVI, WMV, ASF, MP4, MKV, MPG, DAT, TS, TP, TRP, 3GP
Other features: Android 2.3, HDMI out, FM radio, voice recorder, Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
Stated battery life: 40 hours (audio), 10 hours (video)
Dimensions: 85.2mm x 128.7mm x 15.4mm, 207g