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Apple's iPod touch sells in droves. Rivals have, of course, been taking notice, and the latest competitor is Cowon's S9, a highly anticipated MP3 player from a company renowned for producing some of the best-sounding players in existence.
The S9 comes in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB capacities, with prices starting at £170 from Advanced MP3 Players.
With its large, capacitive touchscreen and apparent lack of buttons, the S9 may appear to be mimicking the iPod touch, but there are differences. There's no return-to-the-main-menu 'home' button, but, along the top and bottom edges, are physical volume controls and buttons for skipping through songs.
The S9 is also smaller than the iPod touch, with a smaller screen. Cowon gave it an advanced AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) screen with 16 million rich colours, and deep blacks, and the 480x272-pixel resolution produces stunning images.
The touchscreen impressed us with its sensitivity. Unlike the resistive 'soft touch' screen of the, which requires slight pressure to select items, the S9 requires none. You can also change the size of text to make menus more accessible.
As for the chassis, the plastic design doesn't deliver the same sense of luxury as the iPod touch. It's like a Lexus pulled up next to a Bentley Azure -- the Lexus will get the girls, but the Bentley will get the models.
A well-designed main interface gives icon-driven access to main features. Deeper down, however, menus can look more like older Cowon players -- long lists of dull text. But, as Cowon now finally supports ID3 tags, navigation is much improved over the D2, and you can smoothly flick up and down lists with your finger.
There are numerous option icons scattered around as you browse, and, frankly, it makes the experience rather complicated. This has always been Cowon's way -- customisation over simplicity -- and it doesn't make it an intuitive system at all -- a feeling shared by many at CNET UK as we tested.
With iPods in mind, only a confirmed fool would argue Cowon hasn't had a go at mimicking Apple's Cover Flow system. The S9 supports JPEG album art (firmware version 2.06 and above), and, as the system incorporates an accelerometer, flip it into landscape mode when browsing music and you can flip, albeit jerkily, through album art with your finger.
Other features of the S9 include stereo Bluetooth, FM radio, drag and drop management of files and a five band equaliser, none of which its nemesis, the iPod touch, offers.
The lack of AAC support, however, is disappointing, and protected -- or DRMed -- WMA content is not compatible, so copy-protected files from the likes of Napster get no love, and neither do DRM-free AAC files from the iTunes store -- unlike on Sony, Creative and Apple players.