If you've been waiting for a true alternative to the Francetastic Archos 605 WiFi, your wait is over. Cowon's new Q5W is a hard disk-boasting, Wi-Fi-capable, touchscreen-rocking, Windows-powered, codec-loving metallic behemoth. But with prices starting at a whopping £400, this South Korean media player is sending out a clear message: if you want everything, be prepared to sell limbs to afford it.
The player comes in 40GB and 60GB capacities, starting at around £400 -- far short of the Archos 605's 160GB at around £270. So how do the Koreans intend to dominate the French in the media player world? A number of ways, actually.
The cold metal case, the weight of a Sony PSP and the ruggedness of a man who's recently been rescued after a year in Madagascar, all combine to give the Q5W an instantly 'I mean business' feel. It's a beautiful player and in the hands it feels immediately professional. Unlike the iPod touch that feels almost delicate as a result of its glass front and shiny casing, the Q5 feels like it'd withstand a plane crash, though we're not keen to test that theory.
A soft glossy film gives the touchscreen some protection, unlike the touch's glass screen that only protects the player from looking old-fashioned. There's a slot for one of the two styli supplied, a grille covering the internal speakers, physical volume controls and a curious pop-out telescopic aerial, presumably for Wi-Fi and FM reception. But what we love most of all is the standard mini USB socket for transferring data.
Cowon's previous players have impressed us with their broad codec support but the Q5W goes to new extremes. Just look at this list of supported multimedia formats: Divx, Xvid, ASF, WMV, MPEG-4, OGM, MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, FLAC, MusePack, APE, JPG, BMP, PNG and raw. There's one missing, though: H.264 -- something the Archos 605 doesn't lack, although it'll cost you about a tenner as it's not supported out-of-the-box.
Video can be outputted to TV with an included composite/component hybrid cable. You can load up photos for full-screen slideshows if you want, too. Naturally there are heaps of options for playing back music, including playlists and multi-band equalisers. Keep your folders sorted, mind, as the Q5W doesn't sort music libraries based on ID3 tag info.
Because the Q5W runs on Windows CE, you've got access to a rudimentary OS. You can open and edit Microsoft Word documents, play Solitaire, copy files to and from USB drives via the built-in USB socket -- though it's a blinking slow one -- and move files around folders. But since it's a Wi-Fi-enabled device, you can browse the Web and use MSN Messenger. Sadly, the browser is old and many pages we loaded looked rubbish.
It's important to bear in mind that this isn't a UMPC and you're not going to get your Skype, Yahoo! IM or BitTorrent client working on here easily -- it's an excessively-capable media player, not a Web browser and media portal like the iPod touch or the Archos 605 WiFi.
With so many video formats supported, you're going to have an absolute blast with the Q5W -- the screen is second to none, meaning image quality's terrific, video playback is smooth and the screen actually has some awesome viewing angles. Audio quality is equally superb and outputting a high-quality video to a TV gives amazing performance. If only there was a 160GB hard disk option available we'd be absolutely over the moon.