Cowon iAudio F2 review:

Cowon iAudio F2

Typical Price: £80.00
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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Support for many file formats; FM radio; line-in recording; good quality voice recorder; great sound quality; excellent EQ options; drag and drop file management.

The Bad Horrible menus; bad layout of navigational buttons makes it hard to control; video converter barely compresses video files.

The Bottom Line Cowon's iAudio F2 is rammed with features, but sadly it's encased in an awkward exterior. Fortunately, it managed to redeem itself with great sound quality and easy management within Windows

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.5 Overall

Cowon's iAudio F2 is a very compact little MP3 player that boasts support for loads of audio formats, including the open-source MP3 alternative OGG. With a maximum capacity of 4GB, the support for lossless audio formats and full-screen video seems slightly overzealous, but it scores full marks for trying.

Coming in at £99 for the 4GB version, £89 for 2GB and £80 for the 1GB model, the F2 is up against the likes of Creative's Zen V Plus and the iPod nano. Can Cowon top audio expert Creative at its own game within a fiercely competitive market? We had a look at the 1GB model to find out.

Firstly, you'd be forgiven for thinking the F2 was a Bluetooth headset. It's also trying to look as much like a mobile phone as the Samsung X830 tries to look like an MP3 player. The placement of the nine navigational buttons and the dimensions of the screen are all curiously reminiscent of many mobiles from 2001.

Sadly, the layout of the controls makes it nigh-on impossible to control comfortably. You'll find your fingers flying around to support the thing as you furiously try to press buttons with your thumb. 

Perhaps to alleviate the confusion over the thought that this might be a mobile phone, Cowon has actually engraved 'Digital Audio Player' into one of the side panels. As well as this, there are two audio sockets on the top: one for headphones and one for line-in recording. These two functions could have been combined like they were for the TrekStor vibez, but this way means you'll be able to record and listen simultaneously.

You'll also find a little loophole for a lanyard and a physical lock switch.

Like most of Cowon's other players, the F2 plays a multitude of audio formats, including FLAC, OGG, ASF, MP3 and WMA. There's support for copy-protected content and subscriptions from the likes of Napster and Rhapsody. Downloads from the iTunes Store won't work though, including the DRM-free files. A simple application comes in the box, which handles video conversion into the player's native format and also takes care of transferring content on to the device. JPEG images are also supported.

Watching these videos and photos means staring at a screen the size of a postage stamp, and not even one of those larger special edition ones you see. Staring at a screen with a resolution of 128x160 pixels is only marginally more pleasant than getting an insect in your eye, but as long as you don't plan on watching the Lord of The Rings trilogy on here, you'll probably survive any permanent eye damage.

The built-in FM radio's auto-seek was useless -- it managed to find the grand total of two stations in our office. Most other players find at least 15. Manually seeking stations is much more effective. Still, discovered stations can be recorded to WMA at up to 128kbps, along with voice via the built-in microphone, or by plugging in an external source. The mic is pretty sensitive and the quality is very clear at the highest bit rate.

The F2 has an extensive range of options to muck about with, from play speeds and dynamic EQ settings down to the display options and recording bit rates. It's definitely one of the most customisable MP3 players we've ever seen.

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