Cowon has a tendency to keep us guessing what they’re going to come out with next. What new innovation in the PMP biz will they throw at us next? Well this is it, the iPod Touch killer to possibly beat all iPod killers, the Cowon J3. So without further ado, take a closer look.

Form Factor
The J3 is, in all honesty, as generic in design as they come. That being said, it’s still a very sleek slim and device that’s just 9.9mm in depth. The 3.3-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen (capacitive) display sports a 272 x 480 pixel resolution with 16million colours and is as expected, crystal clear and extremely comfortable for viewing. It’s scratch resistant to quite an extent. I had in side a plastic bag (because of the rains) bouncing around for days amidst, keys, sharp edged cases, wires et al. and found not a single blemish. What irked me was the one inch of empty space below the display which, I’m sure was for good reason, but I’m sure we’d hear no complains if the display was larger.

On one side you’ll find a set of navigation keys for scanning through videos. Below that is a play/pause button followed by the volume keys. I like the placement of the volume keys as it make s it convenient when you’re holding the device in either landscape or portrait. A power/screen lock key is on the other side. At the bottom of the device under a flap is the USB port that also doubles up as an AV out. Like quite a few other Cowon PMPs, the J3 is packaged sans cable for the same. Right beside that is a microSD card slot. An 8GB card, loaded to the hilt worked without a hitch with no speed loss during operation. The 3.5mm standard earphones socket is also located the bottom; personally I prefer it here instead of the side or the top of a device. As usual the bundled earphones worked out quite well and are easy on the ears in both tone quality and comfort. The J3 also has a built in speaker that can be compared to most mobile phone devices.

Features and Performance
Interface

The Flash based UI is simple, smooth, responsive and easy to navigate but not without a few minor quirks. For instance, the accelerometer setup is a bit strange – in landscape mode the desktop icons flip over, however most of the features are standardized to portrait mode which means you’ll have to flip the device back to portrait. If you have the option to change orientation it should work on all screens.

Like most new touchscreen devices these days, the J3 also employs the use of multiple pages. Options can be dragged to different screens just like you would in an iPod Touch or iPhone – press, hold and drag. By sliding the power icon at the bottom of the display various options for displaying the menu show up. The vertical option looks quite like the Zune’s desktop while another offers widgets for various purposes to be placed on any of the desktops. The J3 also supports multitouch which is every bit as responsive as Apple’s. There’s also a zoom bar found at the bottom of the page for single hand usage. A few drop-down menus, depending on the application in use, will pop up if you press the very top of the screen giving you quick access to settings etc

Media
The J3 can dish out some seriously high quality tones if your music files are optimized. Then again it managed extremely well even with some of my average quality files. It’s never going to be necessary to peak the volume unless of course you’re aiming for ear damage. The most impressive feature when it comes to the J3’s audio capabilities is the inclusion of iAudio’s Jet Effect 3.0 settings. It offers a multitude of customizable options to enhance overall audio quality. If you’re a strict audiophile, jet Effect has exactly what you’d be looking for. Not only does it offer a long list of presets that include BBE ViVA and ViVa 2 but it also offers a five band graphic setting for customization, but each graph can also be customized further with regards to Level, Frequency and even the Band width (Wide, Narrow, Normal).

As if that were not enough, BBE+ which is a licensed audio enhancement engine is also on board to further customize the audio and includes settings for Mach3Bass, 3D surround and an MP3 Enhancement booster. That’s in addition to a separate option for Stereo Enhancement and a Reverb effect. You can create presets using these variable settings that you can easily switch to from the music player’s drop down settings. The accelerometer also allows for a 'shake ' option to switch tracks.

Video playback is also a plus point seeing as Cowon devices allow you to drag, drop and play videos of most formats like DivX and XviD. No conversion necessary. The drop-down menu includes access to the audio functions like presets etc. screen capture, stretch to fit options in case you have those annoying bands to deal with and a lot more.

The FM radio worked out quite well too, although it did take over 15 seconds to locate most of the channels. The radio also allows for recording over the air as well as access to the EQ settings. The J3 also has a built-in microphone for the voice recorder function. The Dictaphone’s reception is really good even at a distance of three feet for recording voice.

The image gallery opened up quickly even though it was full of large 8MP sized images. However, even though opening each image was quick a lag was evident while swiping to the next image and using the pinch to zoom function. It was a not much of an issue with smaller files.

An accelerometer -based game called Game hunter has also been preloaded.

Misc. Functions
All PMPs are now ‘required’ to offer more than just music, video, radio and image viewing. So the J3 has a few other adds on available. It’s designed to read .TXT files and the font can be adjusted by colour and size to make it easier to view and read eBooks. I can’t understand why the icon says documents when all it reads is just one type of format though. Flash games are also supported, so you can simply copy past the files into the appropriate folders to play the games on the device. A Calculator and Stopwatch are also present. The J3 supports Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP. That means if you’re looking for a better audio experience in terms of sound wireless convenience, you could invest in a Stereo Bluetooth headset. You can also avail of the Typist feature that opens up a large notepad with a QWERTY keypad. This allows you to save notes on the device and oddly that’s in addition to the Notepad app which is essentially a scribble pad that allows you to use your fingers to draw on the screen and, change the pen colors etc.

Battery life
This is one PMP that refused to die. With music playback on a non-stop loop, the device ran for over 50 hours. It may have fallen short of the 65 hour mark that the company claims but over 52 hours is still excellent in my book. When it came to video Cowon claimed it would provide 11 hours non-stop playback and in reality, the J3 ran for a little over 9 hours and 45 minutes, that too is still quite an accomplishment.

The Bottom Line
The Cowon J3 is available in three capacities – the 4GB, 8GB and 16GB that are priced at Rs. 10,750, Rs. 12,500 and Rs. 14,500 respectively. That’s not too bad considering the features that the device offers especially when it comes to audio. For the true audiophile looking for an in-depth audio experience the J3 is a great option for the price. I say, go for it if you’re looking for that over the top audio experience.

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