Cowon – O2 review

format-rich, pocket-sized portable media player
Photo of Cowon – O2
£249 (32GB), £200 (16GB), £150 (8GB)

Much like Archos with its successful Media Player series, Cowon is one of a handful of companies that has remained quite active in the Portable Media Player market, regularly updating its devices with new designs and features.

The Cowon O2 is a touchscreen-only player and offers a 4.3-inch, 480 x 272-pixel resolution display. This is encased in a black plastic design (though other colours are available) that’s simple, if a little bland, with limited connectivity and control buttons available on the exterior.

A short calibration routine fires up when you first turn the device on to help improve input accuracy, and the main menu cycles between media playback, utilities and setup & configuration. You can populate the internal hard drive, which is available in 8, 16 and 32GB capacities, or an SD card thanks to the expansion port on the side. File support is impressive here, including modern formats such as MKV, Xvid and H.264 and high definition formats up to 720p resolution.

Video quality is impressive enough without being anything ground-breaking. Images could be a little sharper and colours more vibrant, and there’s a buffer time of between five and ten seconds (depending on the size of the file) before playback starts. We did notice that it struggled with some 720p HD content, which occasionally stuttered and paused during playback, suggesting that the graphics processing hardware inside the O2 is perhaps a little underpowered considering the increasing abundance of this sort of media.

A traditional folder structure allows you to view and select stored media, while context-sensitive menus for each category offer an impressive degree of control. When playing back video, for example, you can adjust aspect ratio, subtitle size and synchronisation, zoom in or out and adjust playback speed.

Photos can be viewed individually or as slideshows and audio control is based around a range of special effects to enhance playback using Cowon’s JetEffect system. This includes a custom equaliser with presets, Mach3Bass, MP Enhance and 3D Surround, all of which are designed to help you tweak various parts of the audio range to improve bass, simulate surround sound and refine the sound quality.

Despite the fact that the range of options available can initially appear overwhelming, a little tweaking can result in a superb audio experience. It is however disappointing, considering Cowon’s clear expertise in this area, to see such a poor set of earphones supplied in the box. These will really need replacing to get the most from the O2, though those who take sound quality seriously will no doubt have a decent set of ‘phones already.

The built-in speaker should come in handy for group viewing and an A/V output allows you to send content to a TV or stereo, though this requires a separate cable which at the time of writing was not available (we were told it will appear early this year).

Aside from video, photo and music playback the O2 also offers a document viewer, file browser, voice recorder and timer, along with access to user generated applications such as a calculator and notepad. There is also a wide range of settings for customising the display and system behaviour, on top of the media control options we highlighted earlier.

Company: Cowon

Overall the O2 is a tidy package that offers excellent audio with an impressive degree of format support and control. Despite the rather basic design of the chassis it should provide some healthy competition for the other PMPs currently doing the rounds.