Cowon C2 review

Audio magicians return with another feature-packed portable player
Photo of Cowon C2
£109 for 8GB version

The rise and rise of smartphones threatens to consign the humble digital media player to the tech graveyard. But it’s not dead yet, if makers like Cowon have anything to do with it. The company’s new C2 is the successor to its popular D2, and promises unrivalled audio quality along with stacks of additional features.

At first glance the C2 doesn’t look like anything special – it only offers a 2.6in (320×240 resolution) resistive display with an aspect ratio of roughly 4:3. Around the outside you’ll find volume, menu and power buttons, a 3.5mm headphone port and microSD expansion slot, along with a USB data port that can also double as video-out with an optional cable. It’s a little chunky in the hand – but this leads to a feeling of reassuring solidity. One particularly nice touch is the chrome backing, which adds a distinct touch of class.

Navigation and display
When you fire the player up, a rather simplistic menu offers access to key features, and rather like Android’s homescreen you can swipe left, right, up and down to browse the remaining tools and access handy extras such as a calendar and clock/alarm. When a main function such as the music, video or photo viewer is opened, a tap on the screen brings up the main play controls. Scrolling left or right brings up associated tools such as favourites, bookmarks, settings and audio control. It’s a fairly good system, but we’re not convinced about some of the icons or the menu layouts, which can be a bit confusing at times, in part due to the massive range of features and options on offer.

The relatively small display doesn’t make this any easier, and we did find ourselves inadvertently selecting an icon when trying to swipe around the various menus. If you get ‘lost’ at any point – which is quite likely while you’re getting used to the layout – a quick tap on the menu button on the top of the player returns you to the main display. It’s a handy feature, but since we ended up using it quite frequently, we’d have liked it to be raised or in a different position to make it easier to access.

Thankfully, coping with these fairly minor issues only requires a little practice, but we’re already starting to think that this is a player aimed more at experienced users, rather than those who are just looking for a simple device to handle music and video.

Features and support
As mentioned, the Cowon C2 is far more than just a media player. It has a massive array of built-in extras and conveniences. These include a document viewer, calculator, stopwatch, notepad, Flash player, FM radio, voice recorder, calendar, clock/alarm and a range of customisable themes that can be overlaid onto the display.

We can’t see many users typing using the predictably small on-screen keyboard here, but most of the other extras work well and could certainly come in handy in the right environment. You’ll also find a decent range of format support that includes MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, APE and WAV for audio, AVI, WMV and ASF video and JPEG photos.

Listing these main features only goes some way towards describing the device’s capabilities, however. There is also a range of potentially handy extras such as the ability to create favourites and bookmarks in audio tracks, capture still video clips, adjust playback speed, loop sections of audio or video and search the entire contents of the player using keywords. This could certainly come in handy when you consider that the base player is available with 8GB or 16GB of internal storage. With a microSD card, results in a massive amount of media to browse.

Performance
Headlining the show for Cowon, as previous users of the company’s players will know, is audio performance. Without reservation, this is one of – if not the - best-sounding digital media player we’ve heard. There’s a massive amount of preset and custom audio effects to choose from, courtesy of Cowon’s JetEffect/BBE+ architecture, which uses extremely complicated audio algorithms to maximise compressed formats and offer full control over the sound of your music. Everything from hard rock to drum and bass to classical sounded fantastic on the C2, and for audiophiles this would surely be one of the most satisfying experiences around. Rather surprisingly, Cowon has only supplied a fairly bog-standard set of earphones with the player, so those looking to get close to its potential will need their own. The built-in speaker is also worth a mention, since it’s easily loud enough to enjoy content with others in a room, and though it’s a little tinny, it’s more capable than most. Battery life is also pretty impressive at 55 hours for audio and 10 for video.

Finally, the display itself is best described as ‘adequate’, without truly impressing when it comes to video and photo viewing. While fairly sharp, it can appear washed out, and colour accuracy could be better. Since it’s unlikely that many users will be settling down to view a feature film on such a small device, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Company: Cowon

Website: http://www.advancedmp3players.co.uk/

Contact: AdvancedMP3Players on 0131 443 8545

Positives
  • Superb audio performance with a wide range of effects.
Negative
  • Can be difficult to navigate, and the touchscreen is a little sensitive.

Verdict

The Cowon C2 isn't really designed for those who want a simple, straightforward media player that's easy to handle, but users who will take advantage of some of its massive range of features and superb audio will find it to be one of the most versatile and best performing devices of its type.