Pros Screen, value, codec support; file structure,
Cons Relatively small hard disk size; currently only availabile from Cowon;
Summary I have purchased nearly all of the major hard drive based MP3 players, iAudio, iPod, iRiver, Dell, Creative Zen. Without question the best of the bunch is the iAudio X5. I liked them so much I purchased 28 of them for Christmas presents for my staff.
So I am clearly biased in favor of iAudio products. I am really surprised and shocked as I believe the Cowon A2 is one of the best gadgets of 2005, but no major periodical has picked up on it. There was no mention of this in the best of articles by, PC Magazine, Wired, Popular Science or Time Magazine.
My guess it that the product was released too late to publication deadlines. Most unfortunate as there are many people who would have loved this for Christmas. I review two dozen gadget RSS feeds and knew this was coming and it was loaded with buzz. Unfortunately the only way you can currently purchase this is through Cowon directly. I purchase six of them from Cowon but without question it was the WORST nightmare online buying experience I ever had.
Their store usability is in the lower 5% of all websites. It will NOT let you purchase more than two of these units and their customer support staff is close to worthless in their ability to facilitate the purchase. The only option I had was to use my PayPal account. However, the A2 is so good it is worth overlooking the terrible Cowon US division. The Korean based Cowon company is a master of product design but has a LONG way to go to improve their US website.
But why did I purchase half a dozen A2s? After all that is why you are reading this. Well this is the way MP3 players should be. The 4 inch 480 X 272 screen is absolutely stunning with virtually no motion artifact and it has a relatively speedy 480 Mps file transfer rate over USB 2.0.
There really are currently only two other serious portable media competitors out there now Archos and Creative Vision. The Vision however can not record audio or video so it is not a serious candidate. I don't own the Archos, but the A2 sure looks better and the sound quality and sound effects on their MP3 players and the A2 is generally considered the best in the industry, they have an amazing 3-D sound effect, so I think the decision is a no brainer.
I personally do not use MP3 players much for music though as I listen to educational content so I can continue my education while I work out. This is one of the reasons why I find the iAudio products so wonderful. All you do is plug the USB connection into any Windows XP operating system and they are instantly recognized as a portable hard drive (no software uploads required) and you can easily transfer files into folders and create as many subfolders as you need to so your content is logically organized. Try doing that on an iPod.
But what about recording lectures? The X5 and the A2 have excellent internal microphones and can also record from line in jacks. They allow you to EASILY record seminars that you attend which is much more convenient than the Sony mini disc players. The iRiver also does a good job at this though. The other MP3 players I have used are dismal failures, and the iPod is the worst of the bunch. Not only do you have to purchase an optional accessory, but the sound quality is absolutely terrible.
Recordings made on the A2' or X5's excellent internal microphone are absolutely amazing and on par with mini disc recordings. I attend many seminars where recordings are prohibited, but this device easily allows you to record as long as you batter lasts. Since the screen goes blank no one knows that the device is recording.
The 10 hour video playback is ten hours and 18 hours on the audio make it convenient to watch two movies on a flight. But even if you run out of power you don't have to lug a charger with you, just a USB cable that you plug into any current notebook or desktop and it will charge your A2 right up. Doesn't get much sweeter than that.
Another surprise about the A2 is its size. While it is a hefty 10 ounces, it is very dense and easily fits into your pocket. Although it weighs two ounces more than my first MP3 player, the Creative Zen Nomad, it is far slimmer and does not seem like a brick that the Nomad did.
I never listen to FM broadcasts but the A2 does have an FM tuner installed. There is also a clock feature that lets you set alarms and schedule video recordings. The A2, unlike the Creative Vision, can record video from your TV, VCR and even your camcorder. Just connect to the device with the included cable and you are off to the races. No need to purchase video content like you do with the G5 iPod.
I believe the current firmware is buggy though as I loaded about 25 gigs of MP3 files on it and it the player would not boot up until I removed some of the files. I suspect that will be fixed with an easy firmware upload in the near future.
I read two dozen gadget blogs a day and go through over 1200 posts a week. I would have to vote the A2 the gadget of the year for 2005.
Is it perfect? No way. I would love to see a 100 gigabyte hard drive, the store on their US based web site is one of the worst web and it is currently the only place to buy it in the US.
However, if you can tolerate the imperfections the qualities I have identified above, in my view, far outweigh the downsides and make the iAudio A2 the gadget of the year. You will be the envy of your neighborhood and office once you purchase this puppy.
Pros Sharp screen, easy uploading, easy to learn controls, tv recording
Cons No replaceable batttery, larger sizes aren't availible
Summary I personally think that the Archos AV500. Me and my son are very much into video recording, playback, etc. I have the A2 and my son has the AV500. Now they are both very superior products. These both have scheduled t.v. recordings, music playback, etc. The only problem I had with the A2 was the lack of a replaceable battery. I usually go places alot and carry batteries so that just in case my product's battery dies out, I can still replace it. A2 does not give me that option. I also felt the Archos felt better in my hands and a little more compact. However I will not return this product because it still is an excellent tool for playing back video, has loads of other features including fm tuner, mp3 playback, and with it's ease of use I am very satisifed with this product.
Pros Built-in codec support; excellent screen; fast transfers; beautiful sound; clean and versatile GUI; sturdy; etc...
Cons Short load times; occasional system hang-ups; no in-line remote (currently); no removable battery
Summary Cowon A2 30 Gb
Overall this player is excellent:
The screen is beautiful and displays the clean and customizable GUI wonderfully.
Pictures, movies, and text display with great detail.
Relatively intuitive control interface, though there is a small learning curve.
Battery life is excellent.
Enough hard-drive space for most users.
Gigantic list of features (Radio, Recording; TV; BBE; MP3 Enhance; Bass Enhancer; 3D Surround Sound; Picture viewer; Text viewer; USB Host; can be used as an external hard drive)
Cowon updates the firmware on all their players CONSTANTLY (even their older players).
System occasionally hangs or pauses, especially when changing certain settings.
Some files aren't supported.
Poor built-in speakers.
Not sold in stores.
Pros All the features that you want
Cons Interface not for the easilly frustrated
Summary First off, you CAN purchase this from cowon's website at cowonamerica.com
The below is a reposted review seen in the 30gb review section, with some updates***
I'll start with my con. I have no complaints about this awesome PVP, except that if you are easily frustrated trying to get all functions to work, you might become frustrated. The included manual is trite on explaination, but once you see the player in action, nothing matters.
**One thing I forgot to mention is that after watching a few dvd movies on the a2 (while waiting in line to get an xbox360!)the player died at close to ten hours. That's straight video hours! But the bad thing is that it took me awhile to figure out how to recharge it, as I only had a laptop. It can charge throught the usb when connected to a computer/laptop, but it is very very slow. After a couple hours of charging from the laptop, I was able to almost finish watching Narnia, but it died again so we had to finish it on the laptop. The point is that the a2 needs the wall charger to charge quickly (when I got home it took about half and hour to charge it fully). And when the unit is drained, it will stay drained, so dont get frustrated trying to revive it with the usb, just plug it into the wall.
Also mentionable is that I researched over 25+ hours on what type of PVP I wanted, starting at the ipod video (piece of junk), and finally the cowon a2, which is inches from me playing a full length dvd.
Archos AV700: too big (7 inch screen!!) bad video quality.
Creative Zen Vision: has a PDA screen on it...meaning that you have to hold one hand away from the other to view it, and forget about showing it to others, the viewing angle is VERY small.
Archos AV500: a good unit, screen smaller than A2, bulky cables to record video.
MobiNote DVX-POD 7010: poor sound quality.
There are more bad things in the forums, so if you are thinking other than the A2 then check them, but I have saved you the hassle, so trust me.
Now for the good stuff:
The screen is a 4 inch diagonal screen, 16:9 ratio, and a TFT. It is bright even in direct sunlight. The buttons are all strongly built, have a durable feel to them. The buttons on the right, below the joystick, are as follow: back, a, b,and c. The a, b, c buttons are different for each section of the unit, and you are told what each one does on the bottom of the screen.
The menu's background is customizable (meaning you can turn any picture into a background). The menu icons have a sort of mac feel, being large and cartoonish.
The unit includes a cd with loaded software that has a video convertor that can easy convert most video formats (i.e. ripped dvds)and put them onto the a2. It also includes a very nice case, that doubles as a good stand. I've found it does a good job at protecting it while it's in my pocket, such as at work. It is also small enough and light enough (to a point) that sometimes I forget it's there.
The A2 is very smartly built on a file system. Basically if you have a movie, you stick it in the movie folder. And when you go to movies in the A2's menu, there are your movies. There are lots of codexes supported for the player, check their website for a list of them. Also it has a USB host abilty so you can sinc your camera up to it and transfer files to the A2 and free up memory card. The pictures viewed on the screen can be set-up as a slideshow, and look very crisp.
Another neat thing it can do is record tv in mpeg4. Unlike the Archos machines, the A2 doesnt require any tv convetor unit, all it needs is a standard 3.5mm to RCA composite video cable. It can also turn itself on when you set an alarm and it will record whatever you hook it up to.
Also it can export to a Tv. Ive tried this with Finding Nemo (720x480) and the quality does a good job on the 50 inch plasma that I tested it on. (Think of digitized vhs)
The sound output is very good too. I love hooking it up to my car stereo and listening to movies through the car speakers. It sounds so nice, it's hard not to want to watch it also while driving, but that's way to dangerous for me.
If you already have converted movies, or know how, this unit is for you. As mentioned above, the screen is BEAUTIFUL!!! I forget that I'm watching it on something so small, because the quality is so great. This unit is great for kids in the back seat, because it is strongly built and even if it's dropped will probably be fine.
*****Now, more than a month of using the a2, I can say that this player is AMAZING. I currently have more than 25 full length movies converted on it, along with movie trailers already converted found at divx.com. Though in the beginning I tried to convert personal dvds using dvd shrink and jetaudio (the video converter that comes with the a2), I have turned more towards subscribing to a downloading site (usenext.com) and paying a monthly fee to download already conveted movies. These movies are usually lower resolution than if I converted them myself, but this doesnt mean they look different on the a2, only if viewed on another screen that supports a higher resolution.
My unit, after tax and shipping (3 day) cost me $495, for the 30gb version straight from cowonamerica.com (the only place to get one when I bought mine).
If you are thinking of getting one, spent the extra money and get the 30gb; you may not think you'll need the extra space, but when movies are commonly 700MB-1.5GB, the more space means more media.
I have already answered over 30 emailer's questions as of the first of the year, so if you have ANY questions that need answering, I will try my best and show you that if you are going to spend the money, spend it on something that does the job you expect it to.
Prices: 20GB=$400 30GB=$450
Any questions: email@example.com
"Simply awesome!"on by cameraz
Pros Nice screen, easy recording, FM radio, stylish design
Cons Toggle action sometimes flaky; external speakers could be louder.
Summary Cowon's first try at a full-fledged PMP really hits the jackpot. This impressive product has all of my gadget-freak friends drooling. Even the die-hard iPod fan in my office was lusting over my A2. The video playback is beautiful, and the audio is among the best out there. I can't think of anything that's missing from this thing except maybe a built-in kick-stand, but the included real leather case allows the A2 to be propped up for easy viewing. I had considered buying an Archos av500 -- which I hear is good but looks really clunky next to an A2 -- but I am so glad I waited. All in all, I am very happy with my purchase.