Just when we thought MP3 players were reaching extinction, Cowon is one of the few companies trying to keep this flame alive. Their newly launched D20 has been in the market for a couple of months now and we’re about to find out what’s so special (or not) about this third refresh. The D20 has evolved from the D2, which was introduced in 2006 and a couple of years later in 2009, we had the D2+.
Design and build
The D20 follows the same design principle as the D2+, in fact, apart from a fresh coat of paint and large speaker grille, it’s practically identical in looks. The player is chunky and has a very reassuring solid feel to it. It’s safe to say that you won’t break out in cold sweat if you dropped it. While this is all fine and dandy, Cowon seems to have forgotten that it’s 2013 as the D20 still has the old school resistive screen. At 2.5-inches and a resolution of 320 x 240, it’s not much to look at. You can’t play videos; but that’s just as well because we can’t imagine why anyone would, typically when their mobile phone screens are double its size. However, the D20 is not a PMP, so we can’t fault it too much for having a small screen but it would have been nice if it were capacitive. The speaker grille sits on the side and is fairly loud for you alone.
Little chunky but feels solid
The ports and buttons are scattered around the player. The sides feature a 3.5mm headphone jack and flap-covered miniUSB and microHDMI port. There’s a full-sized SD card underneath the D20 for viewing images off a camera or even expanding the internal storage of 8GB.
Video-out is possible thanks to microHDMI
The rest of the buttons are placed on the top which includes a sliding power/screen lock button, microphone, volume rocker and a button to bring up the main menu. The bundle includes earphones and a charger for the D20. The stock earphones are nothing great and you’ll want to get rid of these for a better pair of IEMs.
The D20 is available in different storage capacities ranging from 8GB to 32GB. The interface is easy to navigate through and you can switch between two themes. The bundled apps in the D20 includes the music and video player, FM radio, pictures, documents, flash player, file browser and some other general apps like calculator, stopwatch, alarm, notes.
Easy to use UI but the text can get uncomfortably small to read
The D20 carries forward the legacy of BBE+ audio and JetEffect enhancements that have popularised Cowon players in the past. There are around 48 presets to choose from (out of which 4 are user defined) as well as other enhancements like Mach3Bass and 3D Surround. There’s a long list of supported audio codecs as well, like FLAC, APE, OGG amongst the popular MP3 and WMA. The D20 has full support for ID3 tags as well up to version 2.3. Video codecs supported include Xvid and WMV but only up to a 320 x 240 resolution. FM recording is also supported.
You can drag and drop your music or any other files in the D20 without having to bother with additional software. The display is bright enough for outdoor use but you’ll have to adjust this manually as there’s no ambient light sensor. The music player displays album art with a vinyl record animation. The main controls on screen can be toggled on and off and advanced options like favourites, bookmarks and advanced playback options like repeat, shuffle or toggle between different effects are present. Audio can be played back either via the speakers or earphones but not wirelessly due to the absence of Bluetooth.
The 'Now Playing' screen
We tested the D20 with the Cowon EM1 earphones which are proven to be very good. The audio quality is very good just like any of their players in the past and enabling the effects makes a big impact on sound. Bass is punchy and the highs and mids are well defined. We found that the BBE preset suited most audio genres as it enhanced key frequencies without drowning out the others. Our one issue with the ‘Now Playing’ screen is that text is simply too fine to read comfortably. The seek time, volume level, etc. are so tiny that I’m surprised the D20 didn’t ship with a magnifying glass. You can also browse through your songs through an album art view. The user interface is quite slow overall and you need to be precise when using the screen, as inputs aren’t registered correctly all the time. The volume level is very loud for earphones and is broken down finely (40 levels total) so you can have it to your liking. Video playback is strictly ok due to the low resolution screen. You can even split your video into chapters and jump to certain scenes without having to seek through.
Another new addition to the D20 over its predecessors is a longer battery life. The player boasts of up to 90 hours of music and up to 13 hours of video. We can safely say that the D20 lasted us 2 days of continuous playback and even more on standby which is pretty amazing.
Verdict and Price in India
The question on everyone’s mind is why do you need a separate MP3 player anymore when your smartphone can do all of this and better? Well, apart from having it on you when you’re working out or jogging, we can’t think of any as well. However, the D20 isn’t very convenient for that scenario as well as you can’t clip it on you or tether a Bluetooth headphone to it either. It almost seems like a product that belongs in the past. Cowon hasn’t updated the D20 enough for it to be relevant in 2013. They might as well have called it the D2++ or new D2+.
For Rs 11,500, the D20 is simply too expensive to even consider. Apple’s iPod nano makes a much better gym companion at Rs 11,900 for 16GB. Plus, you even get Bluetooth, podcasts and audiobooks support.