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.
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.
|Storage medium||flash memory|
|Battery and charge options||lithium polymer, USB|
|Device has screen?||Yes|
|Viewable size||3.3 in|
|Memory card support||microSD|
|Audio record options||microphone, radio, line-in|
|Video record options||none|
|Supplied with||headphones, USB adaptor|
|Tested battery life (MP3 playback)||44h 48m|
|Tested battery life (Video playback)||13h 22m|
|500MB transfer time||1m 41s|
|Audio MP3 playback||Yes|
|Audio WMA playback||Yes|
|Audio WMA-DRM playback||Yes|
|Audio AAC playback||Yes|
|Audio Protected AAC playback||No|
|Audio OGG playback||Yes|
|Audio WAV playback||Yes|
|Audio Audible playback||Yes|
|Image BMP support||No|
|Image JPEG support||Yes|
|Image TIFF support||No|
|Video MPEG-4 AVI playback||Yes|
|Video MPEG-4 MP4 playback||Yes|
|Video WMV playback||Yes|
|Video MPEG-1 playback||No|
|Video MPEG-2 playback||No|
|Video MPEG-2 VOB playback||No|
|Video MPEG-4 DivX/XviD support||Yes|
|Video H.264 support||No|
|Video MPEG-4 MP3 audio support||Yes|
|Video MPEG-4 AAC audio support||No|
|Download compatibility||WMA-DRM subscription and download|
|Price per MB||1.2p|
|Warranty||one year RTB|