Let’s just keep things in perspective before we begin – the age of the PMP is behind us. With 7-inch tablets being as affordable as they are and mobile handsets with large hi-res displays and large storage capacities also making it easier to watch videos and carry media on the go, that genre of technology has been on the back shelf. Cowon, however, has chosen to be resilient and has been launching products irrespective of the market situation. Its latest is the X9. Here’s a closer look.

Video Review

 

Video review of the Cowon X9

Form Factor

Bearing a striking resemblance to most of Cowon’s older generation PMPs, the X9 doesn’t come off as an impressive piece of hardware. It isn’t altogether unsightly, though. The white shell is sturdy and feels solid. The X9 sports a 4.3-inch touchscreen display with a rather low resolution of 480 x 262 and 16 million colors. In today’s Hi-res world of display technology, that’s not one that would garner much respect from its peers. The display is a resistive touchscreen which is another issue to contend with. 

It looks like an HDMI port but it's not.

It looks like an HDMI port but it's not.

On the left hand side of the device, you’ll find a gray unmarked button that works as the power key. Below that is the volume rocker. The 3.5 mm earphone socket is on the right hand side at the bottom. As usual, it’s hard to really complain about the quality of Cowon’s earphones. They’re comfortable and easy on the ear-drums. The scan keys are placed at the bottom along with the Play/Pause button, which isn’t the best position for these keys. A long flap covers a microSD Card slot and a port that looks like a mini-HDMI socket. The latter in fact is the USB/Charging port and can be used with a cable (not included) for AV out (Composite). The cable provided for this function doesn’t quite fit in entirely and so we kept losing the connection most of the time. It seems quite loose. 

Features and Performance

Interface

We’re looking at a rather unsophisticated, simplistic UI that could be akin to a DAP (digital audio player) rather than a video player. It uses a Block style setting with a total of 15 applications that range from AV options to a few extras. Navigation is fairly simple but will require a little bit of pressure on the display to activate functions. Animations like screen rotating and overall functioning of the device is also fair but not as fast a mobile handset with a 1GHz processor. 

A simplistic desktop

A simplistic desktop

Media

This is the domain where Cowon excels. The Cowon X9 is most assuredly designed to help you enjoy the audio experience. Cowon’s Jet Audio enhancement engine is truly remarkable at tweaking the audio output to provide a very customised listening experience. Its user settings allow you to focus on the tones that you would find most favourable and yet maintain a well-balanced quality of audio. Additional options like BBE ViVA and MachBass settings add up to offer users a total of 44 preset options of tweaking the audio. There are settings for Stereo Enhancement, Reverb, a 5 Band Graphic EQ and 3D surround. All of these options make for a rich audio experience and that’s just about all that the device has in it’s merit list. 

Music and radio screens

Music and radio screens

Back in it’s heyday, Cowon’s PMPs stood out amongst the lot when it came to video playback as well. The X9 does not. With what seems like a large variety of codec support, we found that most formats didn’t play too well and more importantly, you can forget about playing HD videos. Typically, the X9 is capable of supporting the following formats – AVI, WMV, ASF with XviD codec support. What was very surprising is that MP4 was not on the list. None of our MPEG4 files worked and naturally, no hi-res videos above a resolution of 720 x 480 were supported. 

The FM radio managed to work out quite well providing decent reception in almost all locations when stationary. While commuting through the city, however, reception was not as good. The built-in voice recorder has a radius of about 1.5 feet if you want clear and audible voices to be picked up. 

Misc. Features

Extras like a Document Viewer allows you to view .TXT files on the device. Subsequently, there’s also a Notepad application for scribbling and a separate Typist option for leaving notes. The Typist app features a large onscreen QWERTY keypad that can either be used in alphabetical mode or number/symbol mode, as there's no option to swicth back. Not sure if they thought it through with this feature. Cowon has also thrown in a Comic Book reader that only reads files in JPG form. In essence, it’s an image viewer with a few tweaks for zooming in to panels etc. 

A few extras thrown in, not all are very usable

A few extras thrown in, not all are very usable

The Flash Player on board comes with a language assistant software that’s not easy to understand. There’s also a file browser, a calculator and a stopwatch. 

Battery

Cowon claims an obscenely high usage for the X9 – somewhere in the 110-hour mark for audio playback. Naturally, we wanted to see if this was true, so we ran our own test. For video, the device ran non-stop for over 12 hours. In the audio run, it refused to stop for over 2 days. Pushing it further was unnecessary, but as it was, there was quite a bit of battery life still left. 

Plenty of customization options for audio enhancement

Plenty of customization options for audio enhancement

The Bottom Line – Price in India

The Cowon X9 is available in three variants – 8GB, priced at Rs. 11,999, 16GB at Rs. 13,200 and 32GB priced at Rs. 15,500. Those prices simply do not justify the devices capabilities. With 7-inch tablets available for much less with features such as HDMI out plus full HD video palyback, the Cowon X9 with it’s ridiculously high battery capacity and even it’s onboard storage doesn’t stand a chance. One could also opt for budget smartphones that feature 4.3-5-inch displays with higher resolutions that can also play hi-res videos up to 720p. Again, the battery would not be a third of what Cowon could offer, but the overall functionality would be much more, as they say, ‘Paisa Vasool’. 

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