Cowon Q5W review: Cowon Q5W

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The Good The Cowon Q5W portable video player boasts robust video features, high-quality audio playback, and includes a Wi-Fi-enabled Internet browser, Bluetooth audio streaming, component and composite video output, MSN Messenger, and built-in speakers.

The Bad The Cowon Q5W is heavy, expensive, awkward to navigate, difficult to configure for wireless Internet, and the optional GPS cradle costs as much as a standalone GPS device.

The Bottom Line The Cowon Q5W aims to do everything a gadget-aholic may want in a portable video player. Unfortunately, its confusing dual interface and high price hold it back from greatness.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6

Cowon's most ambitious product to date, the Cowon Q5W, is a super-charged, touch-screen portable video player (PVP) with an astounding list of features. The Cowon Q5W comes with a hefty price tag ($549 for 40GB, $599 for 60GB), however, and its dense, needlessly complicated feature set may overwhelm some users.

With a recessed 5-inch wide-screen display and elegant metal construction, the Cowon Q5W looks like a Cowon D2 on steroids. Considering that the Q5W comes in at nearly a pound of unwieldy metal girth--measuring 5.5 inches wide, 3.5 inches high, and 0.8 inch thick--it would also make a decent weapon should you choose to hurl it at someone. Anyone shopping for high-capacity portable video players is likely resigned to issues of size and weight anyhow, so let's dive into the heart of what makes any PVP worthwhile: the screen.

The Cowon Q5W's 5-inch touch screen (800x480 resolution) is both beautiful and responsive. Like those on most PVPs, the Q5W's display is constructed with a reflective plastic that limits visibility in direct sunlight. Despite its secondary use as a mirror, however, low-light conditions make colors dramatically pop on the screen, especially compared with the less-reflective matte finishes found on the Archos line of PVPs. Like any proper PVP, the Cowon Q5W's screen is recessed slightly from the face of the player offering some protection against wear and tear.

The Cowon Q5W has a split personality. Sometimes you'll find yourself navigating through Cowon's attractive media browser, and other times you'll be poking your way through the rather dull Windows CE 5 desktop.

The top edge of the Cowon Q5W includes conveniently located buttons for controlling volume, a power switch that doubles as a hold button for disabling onscreen controls, two built-in speakers, an infrared sensor for the included remote control, and a pinhole microphone for creating voice recordings. A useful (often necessary) stylus pen for the Q5W's touch screen is conveniently housed in the top-right edge of the player. Packed into the left edge of the Q5W are jacks for a 3.5mm headphone cable, a 2.5mm headset cable (for voice recording), a power adapter input, a USB-to-PC port, a USB host port, and the oddest feature of all: a fragile, retractable antenna that we first thought was for the FM radio, but is actually used for Wi-Fi reception. The back, bottom, and right edge of the Q5W are bare, save a small proprietary port on the bottom for the player's AV cable output and optional GPS dock.

Although Cowon has proven its track record for making solid, attractive hardware time and again, the company's software interface performance is historically inconsistent. This time around, the Q5W's software interface is remarkably attractive, but there's a catch. After booting the Q5W, a slick Cowon-branded graphical menu system separates the player's media applications (music, videos, games) from other features such as the Web browser, utilities (voice recording and settings), and Windows applications like WordPad. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, the attractive Cowon-branded browser is really just an application that runs on top of the Windows CE 5 operating system at the root of the device. The minute you need to perform some mundane task such as setting up the Q5W's wireless connection, the comfortable Cowon interface gives way to the all-too-familiar graveyard of the Windows desktop. For a device meant to provide a fun distraction from the daily grind, the Windows desktop experience can be unsettling and confusing.

The Cowon Q5W is undoubtedly the most feature-packed PVP we've ever reviewed, thanks to its built-in wireless Internet connection, Bluetooth audio streaming capability, Internet Explorer Web browser, Flash game support, and some limited Microsoft application support. The Q5W supports an extensive list of acceptable audio and video formats (including DivX, XVID, WMV, MPEG, and audio formats such as MP3, WMA, WAV, ASF, OGG, FLAC, APE, MPC), but chokes on AAC, h.264, MKV, VOB, and MOV files.

The Cowon Q5W's 5-inch screen towers over the Archos 605 WiFi (left) and Apple iPod Touch (right). But with both available for nearly half the price, the Q5W is a tough sell.

Beyond the in-depth audio and video playback features, the Cowon Q5W includes a built-in FM radio, standalone Flash file player (presumably for games), photo viewer, text reader, and voice recorder. The Q5W also includes a suite of Microsoft applications that run natively on its Windows CE 5 operating system, including MSN Messenger, Internet Explorer, WordPad (which makes the text reader somewhat redundant), and a couple of card games. For an extra $35, you can also have Cowon bundle a suite of Microsoft Office reader applications, allowing you to read (but not alter or save) files created in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat. Because the Cowon Q5W is based on the Windows CE 5 operating system, there is the potential to run third-party software designed for this antiquated platform--but don't get your hopes up. Why Cowon chose to embed the relatively antique Windows CE 5 into the Q5W instead of a more recent mobile OS such as Windows Mobile 6 is beyond us.

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