Cowon is known for its high-quality portable video players; and the company's newest model, the Cowon O2, doesn't disappoint.

With its gorgeous touchscreen and crystal-clear sound, the flash-based Cowon O2 is sure to please customers looking for a fairly inexpensive PVP. But several gripes we've had with previous models - such as lack of ID3 tagging and no support for DRM-protected files - apply to the O2 as well.

The Cowon O2 doesn't provide video-recording capabilities or internet browsing; it's a straightforward video and audio player.

See also: Cowon A3 review

The O2 supports an astonishing number of video files and has no file size limits. As a result, if your media collection contains files that use various video formats, you won't be burdened with the task of converting them to a unitary format. The Cowon O2 supports ASF, AVI, DAT, DivX, h.264, M-JPEG, MKV, MP4, MPEG-1, MPEG-4, MTV, OGM, WMV, WMV 9/8/7, and XviD.

Video playback on the Cowon O2's 4.3in screen is smooth and sharp, with the right amount of brightness and colour balance. The 480-by-272-pixel screen isn't amazing, but video on the O2 looks great anyway.

The Cowon O2's audio quality and support are as impressive as its video output. The unit's audio player supports AC3, Apple Lossless, FLAC, G.726, Monkey Audio, MPEG-1 Layer 1/2/3, MusePack, Ogg FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, PCM, True Audio, WavPack, and WMA.

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In our Test Centre sound tests, the Cowon O2 had a signal-to-noise ratio average (the higher the number, the cleaner the sound) of 85 db - higher than some of the top-ranked players in our reviews. The Cowon O2 has some great sound-enhancement features too, like a 10-band equaliser and settings for 3D sound quality. In our hands-on tests, audio sounded crisp, with no detectable static or distortion. The included earbuds don't do the sound justice, however, and they were a bit too large to fit comfortably.

Despite its excellent audio and video quality, the Cowon O2 has a major drawback: It doesn't support DRM-protected music and video files. As a result you won't be able to watch WMVs from Amazon or Cinema Now or listen to protected AACs from iTunes or WMVs from certain subscription-based music stores.

Measuring 119x73x18mm, the Cowon O2 is slim enough to fit in your jacket or trouser pocket. And weighing in at 206g, it is far from heavy.

The Cowon O2 is controlled almost entirely by touch (the exceptions are a volume rocker on the top spine and a hold/power switch on the right spine).

Despite its slim size, the Cowon O2 isn't suitable for one-handed operation. To view video comfortably, you must either hold it in two hands or place it on top of a tabletop. Unfortunately, because the screen is prone to glare in brightly lit environments, you must angle it correctly for an optimum viewing experience; a tabletop kickstand would have been a handy addition.

Another small but noticeable drawback we discovered is that the Cowon O2 gets a bit warm in hand.

NEXT PAGE: the Cowon O2's interface

Cowon is known for its high-quality portable video players; and the company's newest model, the Cowon O2, doesn't disappoint.

The Cowon O2's interface is clean, easy-to-follow, and very responsive. Icons are well spaced for easy browsing with your fingertips. The main screen has five options: video, music, pictures, documents, and recent files. Hitting the arrow at the bottom of the screen takes you to less-frequently used features, such as a timer, a voice recorder, and a file browser; tapping the top arrow takes you to different settings options.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Cowon O2's interface isn't as sparse. Entries for different media files appear very closely together, listed in a small font, which makes selecting the correct file more difficult than you might expect. If you have large fingers or find yourself frequently hitting the wrong file, you'll appreciate the included stylus.

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Cowon still doesn't support ID3 file tagging. Instead files on the Cowon O2 are organised in accordance with an archaic file-tree system. If you're accustomed to browsing files by album or genre, you may find the Cowon system frustrating. You must manually organise your collection on your PC through Windows Explorer or a similar file management program before syncing to the device.

The Cowon O2 also has a voice recorder, a timer, a calculator, a notepad, a text reader and a photo viewer that supports JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and raw images.

See also: Cowon A3 review

Later this month, Cowon will release an open-source, Linux-based software developer kit for the O2, so more applications for the Cowon O2 should be available soon.

PCWorld.com

Cowon O2: Specs

  • 32GB flash-based media player
  • 119x73x18mm
  • 206g
  • White
  • Pink
  • Black
  • claimed battery life (audio): 18 hours
  • claimed battery life (video): 8 hours
  • supports: AAC, FLAC, OGG, MP3, WMA, AIFF, WAV
  • audio support: MP3, WMA, ASF, AC3, FLAC, OGG, AAC, TTA, APE, MPC, WV, WAV
  • Video support: DivX, Xvid, WMV, ASF, MP4, MKV, OGM, MPEG-4, MPEG-4, DAT, MTV
  • JetEffect
  • PDF support
  • SD card support up to 32GB
  • Open-source SDK for user-developed apps
  • 16 Ohm headphone amp
  • Supports soft-subtitling in the .SRT format
  • 4.3in TFT colour LCD, 480x272 pixels
  • supports JPEG, TIFF, RAW
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • compatible with Linux
  • Mac OS X
  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 32GB flash-based media player
  • 119x73x18mm
  • 206g
  • White
  • Pink
  • Black
  • claimed battery life (audio): 18 hours
  • claimed battery life (video): 8 hours
  • supports: AAC, FLAC, OGG, MP3, WMA, AIFF, WAV
  • audio support: MP3, WMA, ASF, AC3, FLAC, OGG, AAC, TTA, APE, MPC, WV, WAV
  • Video support: DivX, Xvid, WMV, ASF, MP4, MKV, OGM, MPEG-4, MPEG-4, DAT, MTV
  • JetEffect
  • PDF support
  • SD card support up to 32GB
  • Open-source SDK for user-developed apps
  • 16 Ohm headphone amp
  • Supports soft-subtitling in the .SRT format
  • 4.3in TFT colour LCD, 480x272 pixels
  • supports JPEG, TIFF, RAW
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • compatible with Linux
  • Mac OS X
  • Windows XP/Vista

OUR VERDICT

Though it may not have internet browsing capabilities or much in the way of advanced features, the Cowon O2 is a solid portable media player. Thanks to its support for a wide range of file types, you'll spend less time trying to convert videos from one format to another and more time actually watching them.

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