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Cowon X7 - A Costly Mistake
When the Cowon X7 was announced, a certain group of people finally had their prayers answered. There is no doubt Cowon instills the most confidence in audiophiles - matched only by a very select few like Sansa (post-rockboxing) – and their latest device was a 160GB HDD-type PMP that was expected to give the iPod Classic some competition.
The rest of the world, meanwhile, went about their routine unaffected. They got their music dose from their iPods, or as an aside on their smartphones. The Cowon X7 on first glance seemed like it would make a few of these people sit up and take notice too, but a closer look revealed the true colours of a device that might be targeted specifically at a very niche market. If you aren’t an audiophile, it’s extremely likely that this PMP is not for you. Here’s why.
The first thing we noticed was how massive this was for a PMP. It didn’t feel as big as it looked when we held it, but it was still pretty bulky. Surprisingly, and mysteriously, it still managed to fit in our pockets.
Cowon likes big bottoms and cannot lie?
The device boasts a massive 4.3-inch resistive touchscreen at 480x272, internal speakers, measures in at 127mm x 79mm x 15mm and weighs 212g. It doesn't look like it’ll handle a lot of punishment, but none of the parts or buttons feel flimsy and the build-quality overall is pretty good.
Moving onto the buttons and ports, the X7 on the bottom has three well-spaced out ports – a DC in for charging, a proprietary connector (d'oh!) and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The volume controls are on the lower left side and on the lower right lies the hold/power button. There’s a menu button bang in the middle, right below the screen, which might remind some people of a certain other PMP.
This is where the X7 fails miserably. The resistive touchscreen makes usage painful to say the least and needs multiple calibrations before it even reaches an acceptable level. It lags, touch recognition is all over the place and you’ll spend a lot of time just going back and redoing your selections because the device very frequently decides to pick the option that’s one step above or below the one you want. There's no accelerometer either, so you're stuck in portrait mode for most of the apps.
The X7's Widget Interface
Protip: Use a stylus, but you’ll need to have one beforehand because the X7 doesn’t come bundled with one, strange as that might seem.
Protip 2: Switch from the widget interface to the Zune-clone text-based one, because it makes things better, or rather less frustrating.
The built-in features include an FM Tuner and a recorder, a viewer that reads pictures and documents and a flash player. The X7 supports Bluetooth, but not Wi-Fi so all of you out there looking for a web-enabled device can kiss those thoughts goodbye. A few utilities are also bundled with the device - such as a calculator, a stopwatch, a typist to store memos and a Comix app that zooms and scrolls through your images, theoretically making it a Comic viewer. You’ll spot a “Browser” too, but don’t get your hopes up because it’s just a file browser.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s move onto the device’s main functions – audio and video playback.
We had pretty high expectations of the video playback in the X7 because of its 4.3-inch screen, but came away sorely disappointed. The formats it supports include Divx 1/2/3, WMV 7/8/9, ASF and Xvid. Notice the lack of a particular format? Yes, the Cowon X7 doesn’t support H264. That means no MP4s, no MOVs and definitely no MKVs will play on this device, which is such a major letdown. It makes no sense to us that Cowon manufactured a device with a massive screen and then went on to ignore the codec with the best quality-for-filesize ratio. Even the iPod Touch with its barebones format support plays H264 files. Oh and the X7 has a hundred and sixty GB of storage which would’ve made it perfect for high quality movies and TV shows and the like on the move. We don't know what reason Cowon had for this move, but even the most valid of reasons won't ever be enough.
Small resolutions, big file sizes.
Well videos on whatever format the device does support played pretty well, but the screen was large enough to let us notice blatant pixelations – which is a drawback of the Xvid and WMV platforms. You’ll have to use large bitrates and massive file sizes to make these videos look crystal clear. Those who emphasize video quality won't be very happy at all.
Putting the video matter aside for now, let’s focus on the area where the X7 shines the most – audio. The device supports a myriad of formats – MP3, WMA, OGG and most importantly, FLAC. With a 160GB hard-drive, this is the perfect device to dump your lossless music collection onto and carry it along with you. The X7 apparently supports gapless FLAC playback too, so that’s another plus.
The results of our testing were quite simply stunning. The level of detail the X7 put out from our modest Nu-Force NE7-Ms and Sennheiser CX180s was off the charts, with every frequency prominent and clearly audible. Of course, the quality went down as we went from Lossless to Lossy, but that just goes to show what a boon FLAC support is.
Adding to that were the JetEffect and BBE plug-ins. The quality we spoke of earlier was on a flat EQ setting, but Custom EQs and the Mach3Bass bass booster just made things even better. If we had to describe it in two words, it’d be aural bliss.
Zoomed in, ugly album artwork
Now for the downers – the one or two second delay that happens everytime you select a track is pretty annoying. Album Artwork is zoomed into for some very odd reason and looks horrendous. Cover images that worked and looked fine on the J3 or the S9 are now eyesores. There is no provision to change tracks while under touchscreen lock – so you have to drag this bulky beast out from your pockets and struggle with the messed up UI just to play the next track. Wow! Maybe we’re missing something very elementary here and the function does exist, but we couldn’t find it no matter how hard we tried.
The screen wasn’t the only thing making this device bulky, we’d probably find a massive battery underneath the hood if we opened it up because the battery life in this device is just phenomenal. In our tests, it played video for seven hours straight (!) and hasn’t once run out of battery during audio playback. And believe us when we tell you we used it heavily, at max volume, for 60 hours plus. That is just incredible.
It's probably hiding a massive battery under the hood
The Cowon X7 is a huge disappointment. Its massive storage capacity and amazing battery life coupled with FLAC support and stellar audio quality makes it a great device for audiophiles, but its negatives far outweigh the positives. A poor UI, a Resistive Touchscreen that's sluggish with its responses and lack of H264 support really hold the X7 back. If you factor in the lack of Wi-Fi or any kind of web support, the price tag of Rs. 18,000 becomes a slap on the face.
Buy this if you want to carry around your massive lossless music collection and enjoy some awesome sound quality, but as a PMP the Cowon X7 is a complete no-go which really is a crying shame, because Cowon had the right idea in their minds for something special - they just failed to execute.