Hands on with the Cowon S9

CNET's Donald Bell gets his hands on the Cowon S9, an attractive and capable touch-screen MP3 player with desirable features such as Bluetooth, FM radio, voice, and line recording.

Photo of the Cowon S9 MP3 player.
Click to see the Cowon S9 photo gallery. Nate Lanxon/CNET U.K.

(Update: CNET's full review of the Cowon S9 is now available.)

Cowon's S9 touch-screen MP3 player has arrived, bringing the expected music, video, and photo playback, and extras such as FM radio, Bluetooth, voice/radio/line recording, a Flash player, and a text reader. So far, I'd say the S9's design is spot-on, with a slight curved back and a bright 16:9-formatted OLED screen set at a 480x272-pixel resolution. The user interface is also quite impressive, combined with Cowon's choice of a capacitive touch screen, the onscreen control is about as attractive and responsive as you can get without investing in an iPod Touch.

The Cowon S9 comes in 8GB and 16GB capacities priced at $199 and $239, respectively. The cost could be worth it if you're a real stickler for sound quality, as the S9 is Cowon's first player to include the suite of BBE+ sound enhancements. The BBE+ suite improves on the already impressive BBE effects included in CNET faves like the D2 and iAudio 7, adding more than 30 presets in addition to a five-band EQ with independent bandwidth control.

Now for the bad news. The first drawback I've noticed on the Cowon S9 is that it just feels kind of cheap--which is a complaint I rarely have with Cowon. Unlike the glass and steel design of the iPod Touch, the S9 uses an all-plastic design that--though lightweight--has a hollow and flimsy feel. Even the all-plastic Samsung P2 feels a little more durable and substantial.

Another aspect to the S9 I'm not crazy about is the identical-looking volume and track skip rocker switches at the top edge of the player. I'm sure I'll eventually remember which one does what, but so far I've mixed them up more often than I've got them right.

The other end of the S9 has some issues too. On the bottom, you've got a nonstandard USB plug (one of the first times I've seen this on a Cowon product), and a headphone jack set smack in the middle. I leveled the same complaints against the Archos 5, whose use of proprietary USB jacks is expected at this point, but the placement of the headphone jack right where you naturally want to hold the player for watching videos is a pet peeve of mine.

Overall, my first impressions is that the S9 sounds fantastic, has terrific onscreen navigation, and offers a beautiful, crisp 3.3-inch display. At $200, however, you're going to have to really like all the little extras offered by the S9 (file formats, Bluetooth, FM radio, EQ) to look past its mediocre construction quality and choose it over the Wi-Fi-enabled, App Store-wielding iPod Touch.

I'll be keeping the S9 with me over the holiday break to give it some time to grow on me. I'll post a full review of the S9 after the upcoming CES madness has died down. In the meantime, you can read Nate Lanxon's first impressions over at CNET U.K. and check out our Cowon S9 photo gallery .

If you have any burning questions you want answered or comparisons you want made, let me know in the comments section and I'll try to reply over the next few weeks.

 

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