Cowon X7 Review

My Cowon x5 was stolen by some scumbag, on Valentines Day 2010. They left the power cable, though, so it will have ceased to function after a few hours and something tells me that they didn’t appreciate quite what they had in their greasy little mitts. I took a lot of flak over that MP3 player – it was bulky and ungainly. It didn’t fit properly in a pocket, and needed its own special dongle to power it or transfer files. In an era of sleek, dumbed-down iPod clones, it was gloriously unfashionable – almost wilfully atavistic. People would say “What the hell is that thing? An Mp3 player? How OLD is it?”.

Over a year on, I still mourn its loss, so when I was offered the chance to review its successor, the x7, I leapt at the chance.

The good parts:
Cowon have built a reputation for solid devices that play every format under the sun, with the best sound quality of any media player on the market. The X7 copes merrily with MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, APE, WAV, and whatever else you care to test it with. It doesn’t seem to support APEv2 tags, preferring the more common ID3 format, but you can’t have everything.

The X7 is a departure for the X series in that it comes with a large touchscreen to allow you to watch video on the go. As with audio support, the X7 plays every video format you could reasonably expect and it does it all very competently.

Battery life is outstanding – the device is rated to play for 14 hours of audio time, and that’s not an overestimate. I frequently found that I’d forgotten to pause it after my journey home from work, and it had played throughout the night, with more than enough power left to get me back to work. This is one player that really will get you through all but the longest of long-haul flights.
Not only that, but the 160Gb hard drive offers enough room for the largest of music collections, plus all six seasons of the Wire.

tl;dr – it sounds beautiful and plays everything. I love it.

Cowon X7

The bad parts:

This is not a small device. It’s considerably larger than a smartphone, it’s larger than a dumbphone. It’s only marginally smaller than a phonebox, but that’s the price you pay for the screen size and storage space. I could fit it comfortably into the inside pocket of my jacket, but carrying it in my jeans pocket made me walk like Long John Silver. This was more of a problem when trying to operate the touch screen one-handed – the device is too wide to comfortably use.

Oh, and it’s a resistive touch screen, which doesn’t help. I’d forgotten how bad touchscreens used to be until I tried to use this one to navigate a hundred Gb music collection. Touch-based scrolling is infuriating, with the screen either ignoring you completely, or suddenly whizzing off at impossible speeds. It’s slightly easier if you use a stylus but the device would be immeasurably improved if it had a jog wheel or nipple to help zip through folder lists.

The UX is slightly bizarre, too, and the device ships with all manner of extraneous crud – does anybody really want an alarm function on an MP3 player that has no speakers? Does anyone need a note-taking app on their MP3 player? Of course not, it just clutters up the interface and makes things even more unwieldy than they would otherwise be. The interface is sluggish and generally unpleasant.

The poor software extends to the USB drivers. The first review unit we played with managed to brick itself after we put the first batch of music on to it. Make sure that you eject this device properly – the internet is full of Cowon enthusiasts who have managed to destroy their players – and rumour has it that plugging the thing into an Apple Mac will cause immediate death.

Overall this is a disappointing device. If you’re only using it to play music, you’ll be more than happy with the sound quality, battery life and storage space – but why would you want the enormous, flaccid screen? If you’re using it to play video, you’ll be turned off by the low screen resolution, and in either case you’ll find yourself infuriated by the terrible UI. If you’re really unlucky, your device will brick itself and you’ll have to send it back to Korea for repair.

I want to recommend this to you, but I can’t. I *loved* playing with mine, but then I didn’t pay for it. Here’s hoping that Cowon get their act together and produce a smaller, slimmed down version without the bugs and feature creep. Like the X5.

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