Big phones; big deals
Cowon i10 review
What is it?
Cowon's entry-level multimedia player with FM radio.
Crystal-clear sound quality; JetEffect produces wide range of sounds; video playback clear and vibrant; slim and lightweight; FM recording capabilities.
User interface not quite as intuitive as it could be; lack of video codec support; small, basic screen; no expandable storage.
The bottom line
Despite the slightly clumsy user interface and lack of video codec support, the i10 offers the best option for the audiophile looking for a slightly cheaper player.
If you're serious about listening to music, then Cowon is a name that will be familiar to you. It's garnered an enviable reputation for producing multimedia players that produce simply gorgeous sound, and it delivers this right across its range, including this, Cowon's new entry-level player.
We say entry level rather than budget, because while the i10 is the cheapest way to experience Cowon's enviable sound quality, it's still relatively pricey. That's particularly true since the lack of expandable storage means you ought to scrimp more pennies together and plump for the 16GB or 32GB model (depending on the size of your music collection).
The i10 is presented in minimalist packaging claiming strong eco-credentials. The cardboard case looks recycled, but the plastic innards don't quite back up the green message, although we applaud Cowon's suggestion for reusing it as a pencil case.
Once it's in your hand, you'll immediately feel how light the i10 is. Despite its long, slim appearance, it feels quite chunky thanks to the rubberized casing, designed to give it some protection while dispelling the fear you might snap it in half (you won't).
There are just two buttons on the sides - a hold/power button and the obligatory volume controls. You'll also find the power/sync port, sadly proprietary, covered up when not in use.
Despite the length of the unit, the screen is only three inches in size and it's not a touchscreen. Instead, you'll find the controls take up the bottom third of the unit - these allow you to both press and slide your finger to control the i10. They're pretty basic, but they do the job.
Getting started is a little difficult. The quick-start guide provides just the raw basics and we were sent scurrying to the Cowon website to download the full manual, which thankfully does make things clear. However, even after you've familiarized yourself with the controls, they can still occasionally frustrate as you press the wrong button.
Thankfully the i10's user interface is kept clean, basic and relatively straightforward, despite the gimmicky "Color Therapy" section, a selection of colour swatches for customizing the user interface.
The lack of expandable storage means you'll need to hook up the i10 to your Mac or PC in order to transfer songs to it. We were warned against using it with Cowon's current release of the LDB Manager program for transferring files and playlists in 64-bit Windows, Mac or Linux due to "software issues" that should be resolved soon, but we had no problems plugging it into our Mac Mini and transferring files across via drag-and-drop. Once copied, the i10 quickly and logically organised them for easy access.
Navigating your media collection is reasonably straightforward, with plenty of different viewing options. The fun begins when you press play and experience Cowon's top-notch audio quality, at which point any misgivings about the price and user interface just melt away.
We found the quality clearer, sweeter and deeper than the iPod touch in normal mode, but were blown away by the presets (four of which are customizable) provided by the JetEffect 3.0 engine. We were particularly impressed with the various bass boost settings, all of which deliver an extra oomph without muddying the overall sound. As always, though, you'll want to pair the i10 with the best set of headphones you can afford to really appreciate its qualities.
The i10 is primarily a music player, but its video capabilities were pleasantly surprising, even on such a small screen. They delivered bright, vibrant pictures with a reasonably wide viewing angle - again you wouldn't want to spend too much time watching movies on this, but in short bursts - watching music videos, for instance - it looks great. Sadly, the lack of H.264 codec support limits the player's video capabilities greatly, and locks out MP4 and MKV formats.
Ultimately, the Cowon i10 will appeal to the audiophile with a mid-range budget. You'll pay the price in terms of a slightly fiddly user interface, but if you can get past this, you'll find the audio quality more than compensates.
Other players offering comparable features and quality
Comparable audio quality, but smaller screen and higher price: Sony NWZ-A866
Same great audio quality, better interface, expandable storage, higher price: Cowon J3
Screen (size, type, resolution): three-inch, Clear Colour LCD, 400x240 pixels
Audio formats supported: MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, APE, WAV
Video formats supported: AVI, WMV, ASF (DivX, Xvid, WMV codecs)
Other features: FM radio, voice and FM recording, speaker, built-in mic, TV out or line in via charging port (cables supplied separately)
Stated battery life: 38 hours (audio), 6.5 hours (video)
Dimensions: 54mm x 114mm x 6.9mm, 73g