Cowon J3 16GB review
The Cowon J3 has excellent video format support and battery life, but niggling audio quality and interface issues prevent it from getting an unconditional recommendation.
Review Date: 29 Jul 2010
Price when reviewed: £199
Reviewed By: Alan Lu
The J3 is the latest is a long line of touchscreen portable audio players from Korean manufacturer Cowan. Inevitably it will be compared to Apple's iPod Touch. However, while the J3 lacks the Touch's built-in WiFi and ability to run a dizzying selection of third-party apps, it does have features Apple's player lacks.
There's a microSDHC slot for adding more storage capacity to the 16GB already present and physical playback controls on the right-hand side so you can make adjustments without fishing the J3 out of your pocket.
The J3's touchscreen feels as responsive as the iPod Touch's, but it’s not quite as accurate. This is most apparent when attempting to use the radio tuner’s onscreen dial. We had trouble selecting just the right station, which quickly became frustrating.
The interface isn't as logically organised and easy-to-navigate as the Touch's either. We were puzzled by the many cryptic icons and the occasionally confusing menu structure, although it’s greatly improved compared to previous Cowon players we've seen.
Audio quality is a mixed bag. Using the included earphones, music of all genres sounded muddy and flat, while the bass sounded weak and unsatisfying. Rock and hip-hop sounded a bit harsh at high volumes. Audio quality improved greatly using a better-quality, third-party set of earphones. Music sounded much clearer and more detailed.
Surprisingly the bass was still weaker than we'd expect and certain genres, such as jazz and classical, still sounded flat and lifeless. Adjusting the EQ corrected this and although it is easily accessible when a song is playing, it’s not realistic to adjust it for every song in your library.
We were more impressed with the J3's video playback. WMV and Divx videos played without any trouble; and although H264 support isn't mentioned on Cowon's website, we had no trouble viewing H264 videos on the J3. The colours on the 3.3in AMOLED screen were bright and vivid. Unlike previous AMOLED screens we've seen, the J3's didn't become unusably washed out in bright sunlight.
There are loads of video playback features, such as the ability to jump to a specific point in the video using DVD chapter-style thumbnails. Using all these various options could be easier though, if it wasn’t for those cryptically labelled icons, while the DVD chapter-style thumbnails are often too small to make sense of. The built-in orientation sensor automatically switches between landscape and portrait viewing.
Battery life was very impressive. The J3 lasted just under 45 hours when playing audio and 13 hours and 22 minutes when playing video. These are easily the longest times we've seen for a portable audio and video player.
We were greatly impressed by the J3's bright, vivid screen as well as its good video format support and excellent battery life. It's held back by its fussy audio quality and an imperfect user interface. If you can put up with these flaws, it's still a good buy. However, the 32GB iPod Touch costs just £34 more. With that much memory, the J3’s microSDHC slot becomes insignificant. Along with greater versatility and more consistent audio quality, the iPod Touch is the better touchscreen audio player.
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