What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Tue, 18 Nov 2008, 4:00pm

Cowon A3 (60GB)

Tested at £319
60100
3

As one of the most expensive units we've tested it needed to be special; despite solid specs, it’s decidedly average

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For

  • Good-sized screen
  • excellent file compatibility, including HD content
  • SD card and FM tuner

Against

  • Low battery life
  • looks and feels cheap
  • sound and vision performance is bettered elsewhere

First impressions of this multimedia player are underwhelming. The Cowon A3 seems a dated, plastic, lumpen figure, and it struggles, too, to sell itself as massively portable.

The interface is rather dowdy, while the joystick control method is erratic and fiddly. Still, we could look past at least some of these foibles if the rest of the player delivers the goods. And a read through the specs counters our gloom.

There's a 4in screen with an 800 x 480 resolution. Cowon rightly makes plenty of play on the fact the A3 can play 1280 x 720 HD video content, without the need for any form of file conversion, though of course the video is downscaled to fit the player's lower resolution screen.

File compatibility is excellent, with support for AVI, WMV, MPEG4 and ASF video files among others, while the audio line-up is equally exhaustive, offering MP3, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, WAV and Apple Lossless support.

And, if you're bored of your own tunes, there's an FM radio, and a built-in microphone for recording.

Decent execution, but not the best
So, the Cowon A3 has staged something of a recovery, but naturally the execution is crucial. And video and sound is okay, but it doesn't quite reach the heights of the top dogs in this sector.

The screen seems particularly reflective – not ideal in brighter conditions. Nevertheless, The Wire looks decent, if lacking that extra level of depth and texture that the iPod Touch can dig up.

It's a similar story with music, where Sway's Fit 4 A King sounds punchy with plenty of insight and pace, but doesn't have the dynamic reach of the better players here.

Battery life isn't great, either, only around nine hours with music, despite a healthy seven hours for video.

This Cowon is good in parts but, given its price, it lacks some functionality – such as internet browsing – and can't hit the performance and usability peaks that others manage.

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