Cowon D3 Plenue personal media player review

Handheld media player gets Android 2.3 Gingerbread update
Photo of Cowon D3 Plenue personal media player
£219 (8GB version)

When Cowon released its D3 earlier this year it met with mixed reviews. Criticised for its sluggish performance and poor app support among others, its ‘Plenue’ re-release under Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) looks to fix some of these issues, offering improved performance and a handful of new tweaks and additions.

Design and build
First up it’s a truly impressive looking device – around the size of a modern smartphone, the D3 boasts a 3.7in (800×480) capacitive touchscreen, traditional Android home/back/menu touch controls and an array of buttons around the outside. These include volume, play/pause and track skip, a power button that doubles as a hold switch and a secure port for a microSD card. With a choice of 8GB or 32GB capacities from the off, many users may not need this, but we love having the choice anyway. The headphones port is rather strangely situated at the bottom of the phone alongside mains power, a microphone and proprietary data connector.

Thankfully the main issue with the Android 2.1 device has been addressed – the reponsiveness of the touchscreen is vastly improved over the original, with swipes now recognised instantly and accurately, and even pinch to zoom for photos showing the desired degree of response. A handful of other useful additions include dedicated controls for Bluetooth and Wireless and a few tweaks to the music player, including a sleep timer and improved browsing speed and visual quality of thumbnails.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread
However, in spite of the update, the D3 still runs an extremely stripped down version of Gingerbread – so don’t expect to see anything close to what you’d find on a phone. What you  still get is five homescreens on which to place widgets and shortcuts, with a decent amount to choose from covering the main features of the device.

The range of supplied apps is reasonable (for a wireless PMP), with all the essentials covered along with a comic book reader, email application, Twitter app and voice over IP, which can be used to make voice calls when connected to a wireless network. Many of these are very simplistic however, and can be difficult to configure as very little help is giving in setting things up. Replacing them could be an option, but unfortunately Cowon hasn’t made this any easier.

Cowon D3 app installer

While it’s possible to install apps onto the D3, the process is still tiresome. Despite having internet connectivity via wireless, there’s no direct access to the Android Marketplace. Instead, you’ll need to download the APK files individually and drag and drop them into a dedicated folder on the device. When securely unmounted from a computer, you should then be prompted to install the apps found in this folder. Even following this laborious procedure, only around half the apps we tested installed correctly, with many forcing the app manager to close.

This could well be a killer blow for those expecting full Android functionality (which is, after all, heavily influenced by the app store). Worse still, we noticed intermittent crashes that were far too common for our liking. Predominantly, these seemed to centre around connecting and disconnecting a USB cable – which, due to the APK issue we highlighted above, you may find yourself doing quite a bit.

Media playback
On the plus side, the device works very nicely as a personal media player (PMP), with a massive range of file support and excellent audio and video quality. The former is best summarised in our recent review of the Cowon C2, as aside from a different layout, which is well conceived and far easier to master, the range of effects and environments – and indeed resultant sound quality – is pretty much identical. Which is to say, superb.

The display is also very impressive, and will certainly do justice to video clips and photos, which are recreated admirably with excellent contrast, sharp lines and accurate colours. It’s capable of supporting 1080p video, which can be sent to a TV using the appropriate cable, There’s an impressive degree of control over all media types and the fact that files can be dragged and dropped anywhere on the internal or microSD storage and will then be organised on startup is a nice touch.

Finally, we found the web browsing experience to be fairly average. While responsive enough in terms of searching and loading pages, it did freeze every now and then and pinch to zoom functionality only seemed to work half the time – and when it did was fairly sluggish.

Other issues
Other minor issues we had include a very quiet built-in speaker, which isn’t really even loud enough to enjoy music in a small group – and when we did finally manage to set up a VoIP voice call, the microphone proved so quiet that it was a challenge to have a comfortable conversation. The device’s quoted battery life of 20 hours for music and 10 for video is also a little ambitious, and you’d have to be very strict with usage to get close to these figures.

Cowon D3 VoIP functions

We’ve been fairly critical of the D3, which has seen improvements from the original version thanks to the new OS, but still harbours many of the issues that made it so unpopular. The good news here is that the device is now nicely responsive and offers excellent media playback across the board. The bad is that those expecting to take advantage of some of the benefits on offer to Android phones will find it a frustrating experience.

Company: Cowon

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

Contact: AdvancedMP3Players on 0131 443 8545

Positives
  • Excellent media support and performance, with a stylish design and impressive screen.
Negative
  • Stripped-down Android Gingerbread seems unstable and app installation is frustrating.

Verdict

If you're primarily after a full-featured PMP the D3 succeeds due to its excellent performance and impressive screen. Those excited about the potential of an Android 2.3 Gingerbread device, and who would look to get their hands dirty with app downloading and customisation would be better off saving up for a phone however, especially considering the relatively high asking price.