Cowon's D3 Android player, hands-on

The Cowon D3 puts Android 2.1 on a thin, elegant portable media player with a vibrant 3.7-inch OLED screen. Too bad it's so pricey, and so crippled.

Photo of the Cowon D3 portable media player.
The Cowon D3 portable media player, powered by Android 2.1. Donald Bell/CNET

Any hard-core audiophiles out there probably have a soft spot in their hearts for Cowon. The Korea-based manufacturer made an early splash in the iPod era with products like the iAudio X5 and the D2 and their exhaustive spec sheets, supporting every file format under the sun and propping them up with a wide array of sound enhancement tools.

And while most manufacturers have fled the field of dedicated portable media players, Cowon has bravely (or foolishly) decided to stick it out. Cowon's latest device is the Cowon D3, a $370 premium portable media player running a heavily skinned version of Android 2.1, packed with 32GB of storage.

As expected, it sounds wonderful, and features the full suite of JetEffect sound presets Cowon is known for. Codec support is outstanding for both audio and video, the latter of which supports resolutions of up to 1080p. Other features include FM radio, a Web browser, e-mail, calendar, photos, and all that Android typically brings. Well...almost.

There's no Android Market support--not even a poor excuse for a bundled app store (a la Archos or the ViewSonic gTablet). Instead, what you see is what you get, and what you get is pretty dull--especially for the price.

The D3 is also a bit on the slow side. The capacitive keyboard is fast and accurate, but everything else is slow on the uptake. Apps launch with a delay that leaves you wondering if your touch registered. Swiping between home screens and scrolling Web pages are both noticeably delayed.

There are also some design goofs that have me groaning. Why on earth did Cowon decide to include dedicated playback buttons on the side of the device? You can barely see what the buttons are. They're just there to punish you every time you hold the device too firmly, triggering what is sure to be the most embarrassing song in your collection.

Another strike against the device is the included wall-wart power adapter for charging and a proprietary USB cable for transferring files. Recharging over USB is possible, but it's slow-going compared to using the power adapter.

Ultimately, the D3 is as beautiful as it is disappointing. With its 3.7-inch OLED display and refined Cowon industrial design, it's a stunner out of the box. For practical day-to-day use, though, you're better off putting that $370 toward a well-specced Android smartphone and a decent pair of headphones.

 

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