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Cowon O2 16GB review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £205
inc VAT

Cowon’s stylish-looking O2 is a pocket-sized portable media player.

It has a touch-screen interface and supports a wide range of multimedia file formats. Unlike the larger Q5W (What’s New, Shopper 249), the O2 has a plastic rather than an aluminium case and so weighs only 205g.

The 4.3in screen has a resolution of 480×272. This means video lacks fine detail when compared to many other players, including Archos’s 605 WiFi (What’s New, Shopper 237), which fits a resolution of 800×480 into the same space. The display is nice and bright, though, and colours look fairly accurate.

The O2’s interface is clear and simple, with large icons arranged over three main tabs. Cowon has included a clever device that doubles as both a stand and a stylus. You’ll need it once you get past the main interface as menu options require precise control. The file manager is also cramped and doesn’t support simple gestures; you can’t, for example, scroll by sliding your finger up and down the screen.

Support for obscure file formats has always been one of Cowon’s strengths, as this reduces the need to re-encode files you’ve already recorded or downloaded. The O2 introduces new formats to its already lengthy list, including the Matroska .mkv wrapper for video and the Apple Lossless audio format. Unsurprisingly, there’s no support for copy-protected files, such as those downloaded from iTunes.

Wide format support is commendable, though viewing movies you’ve already encoded can be hit and miss. Our test videos sometimes had black borders around the entire picture. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t automatically adjust for this or offer a zoom option so that you can fill more of the screen.

As well as the 16GB of internal memory, there’s a memory card slot that can take SDHC cards up to 32GB in size. This will be particularly useful to those who own a digital camera that uses SD cards, as you’ll be able to view your photos on the O2’s display. Disappointingly, you can’t copy files directly from an SD card to the internal memory.

One big drawback of the touch screen is that it’s practically impossible to control music playback while the O2 is in your pocket; even in your hand it’s rather fiddly compared to most MP3 players. The only external buttons are the on/off switch and a volume control. If you upgrade to the latest firmware, you can configure the volume control to act as a track back/forward button while the power switch is set to its Hold position. However, when switching back to volume control, it’s easy to accidentally turn off the device.

Though the O2 has broad format support and a decent battery life, the screen has a low resolution and the controls are fiddly. It simply isn’t good value when compared to Archos’s 405. If you’re looking for a 4.3in display, we recommend Archos’s 605 WiFi 4GB, which has a higher resolution screen and costs only £160.

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