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.
Another music feature we aren't thrilled about on the D2+ is the song browser, which is a little awkward to move through. Scrolling is helped by the capability to use the volume buttons on the top of the D2+ to move through lists, but the end result can't match the swiftness of Apple's scroll wheel or the Zune's touch pad. That said, we appreciate that the D2+ lets you browse your music by either ID3 tag or your own custom folder view--offering a degree of freedom not found in the iPod universe.
Video playback on the D2+ is unchanged from the days of the original D2, which seems like a lost opportunity on Cowon's part. To be fair, the D2's video features were far ahead of the curve in 2007, and and its 2.5-inch screen still trumps the iPod Nano's relatively small 2-inch screen. The problem with video on the D2+ is that the supported formats (AVI and WMV sized at 320x240) aren't as common on the web as the H.264/MPEG files that are standard for most video podcasts and work natively on the iPod and Zune. More often than not, you'll need to convert video to play on the D2+ (conversion software is included), which feels like a tedious extra step just to watch video on a 2.5-inch screen. If Cowon had included H.264 video support and some extra wiggle room on the 320x240 resolution, the D2+ would be a more compelling product.
Features such as FM radio, photos, text, and voice recording work well, but also remain unaltered from the original D2. Extra utilities such as a calculator, notepad, and a Flash game player came to the first-generation D2 by way of a firmware update, and are offered on the D2+ out of the box.
Last, but not least, one of the more understated features of the D2+ is a memory expansion slot that supports SD, MMC, and SDHC cards. Instead of treating memory card content separately from the files stored on internal memory, the D2+ merges all the content together for a seamless experience. Most people prefer to have content merged this way, but only a few MP3 players pull this trick off (most notably, the
When you boil it all down, the take-away feature on the Cowon D2+ is sound quality. You'll need to upgrade Cowon's bundled earbuds and switch on a few of the player's sound enhancement settings to really appreciate the sonic supremacy of the D2+, but the effort is well worth it for anyone looking to take their listening experience to another level. Settings for five-band EQ, Mach3Bass, BBE enhancement, 3D Surround, Stereo Enhancement, and MP3 Enhancement, can all be adjusted independently and saved as a single group preset. You can even drill down into the EQ and adjust the frequency ranges for each of the five bands, if you're feeling very particular.
Now, if you're the kind of audio purist who wouldn't be caught dead slathering artificial audio enhancements on your music, then the D2+ isn't a great pick. In fact, when we switched off all of the EQ and enhancement settings and put on our trusty Shure SE310 earphones, we tended to prefer the sound of the iPod Nano (fourth-generation) and Samsung P2 over the D2+, finding they offer a warmer and wider default sound. After juicing a few settings, the sound of the D2+ quickly takes the upper hand, but not everyone enjoys fiddling with EQ to dial in the best performance.
Video quality on the D2+ is bright and crisp, and supports playback up to a smooth 30 frame per second. Unfortunately, if you're converting your videos to get them on the D2+, you will inherently encounter some loss in video quality. Just like the original D2, the video player on the D2+ supports video bookmarking and auto-resume, and lets you apply audio enhancement settings to video audio, as well.
Cowon rates the battery life of the D2+ at 52 hours for audio and 11 hours for video, under best conditions. For reference, the original D2 tested at 50 hours of audio and 10 hours of playback. CNET Labs test results averaged 40 hours for audio and 9 hours for video, which are short of Cowon's claims, but still above-average.
Overall, the Cowon D2+ is a great little portable media player with impressive sound, long battery life and a price that makes sense. Still, we're a little disappointed Cowon didn't do more with the D2+, considering they had two years to hash out a redesign after launching the original model. For better or worse, the D2+ is practically the same D2 we saw in 2007 and will probably be a little anticlimactic for Cowon fans.