Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Cowon iAudio A2
- Awesome screen, heaps of playback options, Video Recording
- No stop button
The Cowon iAudio A2 is the ultimate tech-gadget for people who can afford its price tag. There is very little it cant do and even does a few things that aren’t expected from a unit of its size.
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
Sometimes you can't help but drool over a gadget with as many awesome features as the Cowon iAudio A2. When we heard about this product we thought it had a hard task ahead of it when compared to the Zen Vision from Creative. Even though the Zen earned one of our highest levels of adoration, the iAudio A2 surpassed that and then some. It has a long list of features and almost no flaws, making it the very best multimedia player on the market.
The sleek design consists of a 4 inch LCD screen on a charcoal grey face with the rest of the unit finished in pearl white. The face also sports the silver navigation buttons with input and output ports on the left hand side of the unit. The button layout is easy to use and the unit can be powered on via a button on the right. The iAudio A2 isn't a small device but can still be carried around in the pocket as it weighs only 350 grams (in its protective case).
Besides looking incredibly sexy, the iAudio A2 also performs impeccably, with a user interface that is both simple to navigate and also attractively designed. The unit has a long list of features such as supporting playback for video with subtitle support, audio playback, FM radio, image viewing, text viewing, audio recording via line-in, voice recording via the in-built microphone and the most impressive feature, video recording via line-in. While the Archos AV500 also records television, it requires an additional accessory to do so, while the A2 plugs straight in. There is very little the iAudio A2 can't do - it can even serve as a USB host to transfer images direct from a digital camera to the hard drive without a PC. The unit will last about 10 hours on one battery charge depending on which modes you are using and recharges in about 4 hours.
The screen on the iAudio is a thing of beauty. It handles anything you throw at is without any loss in quality and is very bright with a consistent and high contrast ratio. The screen can only be faulted in that it is not trans-reflective and so has a little trouble when being viewed in harsh sunlight.
Video playback is stunning with a crystal clear image even when being interpreted into widescreen from the native resolution. The display can be toggled between 4:3 and 16:9 or can be left on automatic so the player makes up its own mind. The unit supports playback of AVI, WMV, ASF, MP4 and video made with Divx 3.11 to 4.5, Xvid and Windows Media 9 codecs with reasonable resolution limits imposed on each. There are very few video formats that this unit doesn't display, the only two major ones being Quicktime and Real Media. There is no noticeable slow down on any of the formats when played on the LCD screen and no audio lag. The video playback function also supports SMI subtitle files which make watching foreign films possible and also opens up a world of possibilities for those with hearing disabilities. Unfortunately, SMI is not the most widely used subtitle standard but there are free programs available on the internet for easy conversion. Video can also be played back via a television set with the flick of a switch and maintains its quality of image and sound reproduction.
The audio playback is also top notch with support for MP3, OGG, WMA, WAV (with 5 band EQ), BBE, Mach3Bass, MP Enhance, and 3D Surround. The sound is delivered in high quality with superior fidelity without any loss of information or background noise.
Using the radio on the iAudio A2 is also simple with easy options for creating your own presets together with automatic scan presets. The radio produces very good stereo sound too, with very little to complain about.
The A2 can also view images in JPG, PNG and BMP formats but does have a restriction on the resolution. JPEG files must be less than four megapixels to be compatible while PNG files need to be less than three megapixels. BMP has various limitations based on the bit rate of the image ranging between four megapixels for 24bit through to 12 megapixels at 8bit. Whatever format is used, the image is displayed in perfect quality with the only detail loss resulting from the compression in size, which can't be helped. In addition to image viewing the A2 can also view six different text file standards with various viewing options including bookmarking.**
The iAudio A2 records audio in Mp3 format up to 44.1KHz and 192Kbps from various sources including the radio, line-in or voice recording. Provided you have the levels set correctly from the source device, the quality of the audio is top notch with no discernable imperfections. The radio recording works very well and the microphone on the voice recorder picks up sound quite well with very little background interference.
The most impressive feature of the iAudio that helps it stand out from the competition is the ability to record any AV source via the provided RCA cables. This means you can plug in your DVD player or television into the player and record live TV or copy a DVD for future playback. The video is recorded in ASF format using MPEG4 and Mp3 with unblemished results. The only complaint with this technology is that it doesn't record in native PAL resolution but it is really just a minor quibble considering the overall excellence of the video.
Even with all our love for the iAudio we do have one complaint. The unit has no stop button. At first this was very frustrating as pausing the playback wasn't sufficient and our natural instinct had us attempting to stop playback time and time again. That being said, after using the unit for the past two weeks, we have grown accustomed to it and it no longer serves as a problem. However, we feel that we are obligated to at least mention it as it may annoy some consumers to no end.**
There are plenty of multimedia players on the market and with the recent addition of iPod Video the competition for the A2 is growing strong. However, we feel the A2 has a better screen than the iPod Video and more format support. It has more storage space than the PSP could ever dream of and its video recording mode makes it superior to the Zen Vision. The Archos AV700 could possible beat out the A2 with its 100GB storage and ability to play games but it weighs almost twice as much and is not as portable. The iAudio A2 reigns supreme as the best multimedia player on the market and is a must-have item.
**Since the publication of this article Cowon has released a firmware update and JPEG files no longer have any resolution restrictions. Also,we are told the stop button issue has now been resolved whereby if you press the pause button for 2 seconds you can stop file playback.
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