Cowon gave the old A2's graphic user interface a good polish, and the result is a much more inviting menu system. We also like that the background image on the A3 can be replaced with your own photo or video still. Despite the new window dressing, however, the A3's mini navigation joystick is just as frustrating to use as the one found on its predecessor.
Looking at the Cowon A3 from the top down, it looks a little like a thick metal sandwich. Unfortunately, portable video players don't win any prizes for thickness, and with the A3's nearly inch-thick girth, we're reluctant to call it pocket size. If you squint, you can also see the A3's two built-in speakers on the right and left, and a microphone smack dab in the middle.
The Cowon A3 comes with a bevy of cables, as well as a power adapter, a pair of earbuds, and wrist strap (the USB flash drive in the picture is not included). Don't let the power adapter fool you, the Cowon A3 can also charge over USB.
The left edge of the Cowon A3 sports an unbeatable array of i/o, most of which is hidden behind a tethered plastic door. Starting at the top, you have the headphone jack, composite AV out, AV in, component and S-Video output (included adapter required), a USB 2.0 port for connecting to your PC or hosting USB Flash memory devices (digital camera, memory sticks, etc.), and a power input.
The Cowon A3 is an unabashedly bulky product that really belongs in a bag instead of a pocket. Besides, you'll want to protect the A3's beautiful, yet vulnerable, plastic screen. A hold switch on the bottom of the A3 will prevent the gadget from powering up accidentally.
Cowon seems eager to throw every feature imaginable into the A3. Unfortunately, the MobileTV option (bottom-left corner) is only available in Korea, Japan, and Europe, where it can be used for DMB, 1SEG, and DVB broadcasts. Even then, you'll have purchase a separate mobile TV tuner in order to enable the feature.
The composite and S-Video output feature on the A3 requires an included cable adapter. A dedicated switch on the bottom of the Cowon A3 switches between viewing content on the LCD display or the video output.
One of the more gee-whiz features of the Cowon A3 is its ability to act as a USB 2.0 host for flash memory devices like digital cameras and memory sticks (not included). Once connected, the A3 can transfer files onto its hard drive, providing an easy way to back up and view photos, or share files between friends.