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Cowon D2 review

After having owned the Cowon D2 portable multimedia player for about two months, I think I have had enough experience with the device to write a mostly accurate review.

The Good

One of the most important criteria when I set out looking for a portable audio player was that it has to work with the setup I already have. Specifically, it has to work with my computer, which is running Linux 99% of the time, and it has to work with my music collection, which is mostly in Ogg Vorbis.

Why Ogg Vorbis, you ask? Well, a couple of years ago I would have given you the whole speech about freedom and how important it is to have open standards, so that the market will compete on quality rather than who has the best vendor lock-in scheme. I still think that is important, but nowadays it's more a matter of convenience. I have gigabytes upon gigabytes of music that I already bought and ripped, and I do not want to rip it again, or re-encode it.

Cowon is one of the very few companies that actually takes other audio formats than MP3 seriously. That is perhaps the main reason that I chose to buy one of their products.

I was surprised to see that there was no complete manual in the box, just a quick-start guide. On further thought, I came to the conclusion that it was probably a wise decision. It saves the trees, the vast majority of the customers have a computer and access to the Internet, so they can go look it up there.

Other reviewers have mentioned this, but it bears saying again: the Cowon D2 is smaller than you think it is. It is actually about as big as a pack of cigarettes, and fits easily into any pocket I have, including front jeans pockets.

The Bad

The D2 isn't only an audio player, it's a video player as well. Yes, you can actually play videos on the tiny little 2.5" screen. I don't have much use for this feature, but one day I decided to try it out, just for fun. Boy, was I disappointed.

After becoming familiar with the D2's great audio format support, it comes as a surprise that the D2 can't play any old video file you put on it. I tried with MPEGs, AVIs, even QuickTime files, nothing worked. After some googling, I was able to dig up a post on Ubuntuforums with a link to a converter script. The script ran, it was able to convert a video so that the D2 could play it, but the whole process was impractically slow. So it does not seem that I will be using the D2 to play videos after all.

Indeed, according to the manual, “All video files must be converted using jetAudio VX. Any other video files are not supported by D2.” I may be underestimating the difficulty in decoding multiple video formats in hardware, but this seems like an unfortunate choice by a company that adheres to open standards in so many other aspects.

I wasn't planning on using the D2 as a recording device, but if dictation capabilities are important to you, you should note that in the unit I have, the internal microphone is broken. I can fix it temporarily by squeezing the front and back of the chassis near the microphone, but that is not very practical.

The Ugly

So you want to play Science@NASA? Sure, we can arrange that. Which of the two copies of the first episode do you want?
Oh, this might sound like Evils Toy, but it's really Science@NASA. Honest. The cover art? Never mind that. I know what this is. The meta-data told me so.
You want to play something else?
One of these database entries is the actual podcast episode you're looking for, and I'm not telling you which!

Occasionally, after having uploaded a lot of new tracks to the D2, some or all of the meta-data are completely wrong. Sometimes all or nearly all of the tracks have no artist/title tags (they appear as Unknown), other times you get the artist and track names of the wrong album. In addition, when the device is in this kind of state, it is prone to lock up simply by trying to play specific songs.

I tried to initialize it to factory default according to the procedure in the knowledge base, but that didn't help with restoring the broken meta-data. The only thing that worked was to re-upload all affected files to the device.

Since the D2 takes a bit longer to boot after I've uploaded data to it, I suppose it is building some kind of master index that gets easily corrupted.

Needless to say, this firmware bug is very annoying, because I usually load a lot of new tracks onto the D2 just before I'm leaving somewhere. That is when the bug is most likely to happen, and I can't fix it before I get back to the computer so I can re-upload the tracks.

I'm sorry, Cowon, but you really need to do more QA on your firmware. As it is now, I cannot recommend buying the D2.

[Saturday, Jun 28, 2008 @ 23:06] | [] | # | G