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Friday, June 10, 2011


Smartphones such as the Apple iPhone 4 and Android handsets may be the dominant devices for playing music and video on the commute, but for longer trips there's room for a portable media player that offers serious sound quality and an insanely long battery life.

That's exactly what Cowon is aiming for with its X7, a 79x127x15mm touchscreen device whose 4.3in AMOLED panel measures just 480x272 pixels.

Audio playtime
Music is the X7's strength: it manages to play a host of files dragged onto it from a PC, including MP3 and WMA as well as lossless types such as WAV, APE, AIFF, FLAC and OGG.

That's a lot more comprehensive than its Apple rivals, and the X7 also adds a huge 160GB hard disk and 1GB flash drive, though the device isn't compatible with Mac or Linux-based computers.

Other audio features include a radio (FM only) and tiny built-in speakers, though we'd highly recommend you primarily use this device with some decent headphones. Bluetooth is also present, enabling you to pair the Cowon with some wireless headphones.

The 200g X7 is less of a heavyweight with video, supporting only non-H.264 video codecs (conversion software is supplied), and no capability for playing MKV, MP4 or MEPG files. We did, however, get AVI and WMV files to play. Adding files requires you to use a proprietary USB cable, so you'll have to remember to carry that with you. A composite video cable is also supplied to hook-up the X7 to a TV.

A look at the interface
In place of a generic interface, the X7 is graced by its own rather fussy onscreen graphics. The lack of a multitouch display is a shame, but more disappointing is the screen's lack of responsiveness. It's a chore to scroll through lists of songs or videos, and it regularly took us two - sometimes three - touches to get some simple commands through to the X7.

Depress the ?M' button (the only physical control on the device, apart from volume controls) for a few seconds, and the X7 changes to a simple list-based interface that's actually easier to use.

In terms of architecture the X7 is well designed, with widgets for all of its major features presented in a list, though it plays to its strengths - a piano icon on the home screen lets you skip tracks and pause music playback without having to delve into any software.

Pictures can be displayed one by one, but not swiped, and text files read, though the latter is rather painful to use as is the oh-so-simple 'Typist' virtual keypad and text input note-taker app.

Where the X7 truly impresses is with its battery life. Playing video, the device lasted for around 10 hours, but with a music-based diet it stretched to an enormous 80 hours on a single charge.

Sound quality
Capable of some serious bass and high volumes, the X7's audio performance is pretty much peerless. The supplied headphones are basic, but paired with some reasonably good quality in-ear alternatives the X7 doesn't disappoint.

There are dozens of EQ settings in a suite called JetEffect 3.0, with +BBE Mach32Bass and several headphone modes subtly and delicately improving on what is already a highly detailed and robust sound that goes up to impressively high volumes.

The Cowon X7 looks like an old-fashioned PDA, and its touchscreen isn't significantly more responsive - but appearances can be deceptive. The X7 proves its worth on long journeys with a huge battery life and rugged build quality, both of which are highly unusual in a touchscreen device.

Musos will love the X7 for its huge capacity, stunning sound quality and extensive file support, and though those same qualities should make this a decent option for watching movies on the go, its screen isn't the best around - either to watch or to touch - and video file support is poor.

BEST POINT: Superb sound quality; battery life of up to 80 hours for audio.
WORST POINT: The display isn't great, and support for video file formats is limited.

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