Cowon's original D2 MP3 player from 2007 quickly earned a reputation for outstanding sound quality, a long-lasting battery, and cutting-edge touch-screen technology. Two years later, the Cowon D2+ refines the audio quality and touch-screen interface that made the original model so compelling, and includes a reasonable price tag of $139 (8GB) and $179 (16GB).
Physically, the Cowon D2+ is nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor, measuring the same 3 inches wide by 2.2 inches tall and a relatively chunky 0.65 inch thick. The D2+ is manipulated mostly through its touch-screen interface, however, controls for power, menu, button hold, and volume remain on the top edge of the player. Audio, USB, and peripheral connections are located on the left side of the D2+, and an SD/MMC/SDHC card slot is tucked away on the bottom.
The screen on the D2+ is a 2.5-inch TFT LCD capable of displaying 1.6 million colors at a 320x240-pixel QVGA resolution, and looks comparable with the iPod Classic screen in both size and image quality. The look and feel of the D2's graphic touch-screen interface has been overhauled for a cleaner, more modern look. Functionally, however, the interface is identical to the original D2, which means that scrolling long lists of music takes patience, and some operations are better executed with a stylus than a clumsy finger.
One of the only hardware design tweaks that distinguishes the D2+ from the model we saw in 2007 is the absence of metal trim along the front and back of player. Instead, the D2+ uses an all-plastic design that--though lighter--feels a little less substantial than the original.
The Cowon D2+ is no slouch when it comes to features, offering music, video, and photo playback, along with an FM radio, voice/radio recorder, text reader, Flash player, and a ton of little extras. If you're willing to shell out a little extra on cables, you can also enable features such as line-input recording and video output.
In spite of the extensive spec sheet, generous screen size, and two years spent back on Cowon's drawing board, the most prized feature of the D2+ is the same feature we loved on the original D2: outstanding audio playback. In fact, one of the only concrete advantages the D2+ offers over its predecessor is the inclusion of the latest BBE+ suite of audio enhancement settings.
Beyond the sound quality, the D2+ does a nice job handling music playback, in general. The main music playback screen shows off album artwork, track information, elapsed time, and settings such as repeat, shuffle, and EQ. An easily accessible pop-up menu in the bottom left corner of the screen lets you jump into the song browser, bookmark playback, or add songs to a dynamic playlist.
Common music files such as MP3, WMA (including subscription tracks), Audible, and WAV, are all supported on the D2+, as well as boutique formats like FLAC and Ogg. Support for AAC music files isn't offered, though, which was excusable when the original D2 came out in 2007, but is harder to justify now that the popular iTunes AAC format can be played on devices beyond the iPod. The latest MP3 players from Sony, Samsung, and Zune, are all compatible with the iTunes AAC format, and Cowon should really get in the game if they want to compete against the iPod in the U.S.