Cowon iAudio A3 personal media player
Watch out, Archos
The on-board FM radio lacks RDS but does come with 25 pre-sets by way of mitigation. The A3 also works as a TV but you need you need to fork out for the add-on DVB-T receiver (for Europe) that clips onto the side of the player. Cowon didn't supply this with the review unit, so we couldn't test the A3's TV credentials, but the screen is certainly up to the job.
For those fond of mucking about with their media as it is playing, both video and audio can be played at anything from half- to double-speed, and while in video mode you can alter the aspect ratio and pan-and-scan settings from 70 per cent to 150 per cent on the hoof. The various audio filters can also be changed while a track is playing. Zooming in on still images is restricted to two levels that look to be about 1.5x and 2x.
The screen is gorgeous...
A few video functions we found handy were the variable skip setting, the option to change the colour of the subtitles and the screenshot facility. Using the former you can set a tap of the joggle key to skip you either five, ten, 20, 30, 60 seconds or two, five or ten minutes forward or back. Hold the joggle key over hard and you fast forward or rewind at an ever increasing rate of knots. All in all, these features make navigating around video quick, painless and fun.
The audio player comes with eight pre-set EQ ranges - Normal, Jazz, Rock et al - a ten-band graphic equaliser and four variable "JetEffect sound field effects" filters entitled BBE, Mach3Bass, MP3 Enhance and 3D Surround. Leaving the sound settings in 'normal' results in a well balanced, clear and punchy sound with nicely weighted bass and solid vocal lines irrespective of genre, but there is almost endless scope to muck about with the sound should you so desire.
...but the UI doesn't break new ground
Cowon quotes seven hours of video playback and nine of audio. The best we got was 5.75 hours for video and a touch under eight for audio, both of which are probably within what you could call a reasonable margin of error over the makers claims but nevertheless are hardly impressive, especially the audio playback time which doesn't even stretch to a decent length international air flight. Better pack the iPod as well for any long trips.
As a side note, to charge the player via USB cable, the AV Out/LCD slider has to be in the 'lock' position. If we had read the comprehensive PDF instructions we would have known this before the battery died mid file transfer.
Cowon supplies the A3 with its jetAudio media management software, which is one of the better exemplars of the breed, though frankly seeing as you can pretty much drag and drop darn near any file you want directly into the A3 we suspect it won't get much use.
On a technical note, Cowon regularly posts firmware updates on its website, version 1.18 for the A3 appearing as we wrote this review, along with software for a font maker and a few other bits and bobs. Nice to know they don't just wash their hands once you've parted with your hard earned. And, ahem, don't want an extra 20 bucks just because they've added a few new features.
The A3 is a lovely bit of kit offering superb video and audio playback, truly comprehensive file support and a screen so good you will want to marry it and have its children. The only downsides are that to some eyes it looks a little old fashioned and has controls that fail to advance the science of user interfaces. It could do with rather more ooomph in the battery life department. It isn't cheap either but we reckon it is value for money.