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Cowon Q5W review: Cowon Q5W

GPS navigation
For an additional $199, Cowon can provide you with an in-car dock for the Q5W that will enable its GPS navigation feature. If you can get past the fact that adding the GPS feature puts the Q5W's price close to $800, the added GPS functionality is useful. Evaluated as a GPS device, the Cowon Q5W's best features are its large screen and attractively rendered maps. That said, those who are serious about GPS will find the Cowon Q5W's navigation interface unnecessarily complicated.


Ready to ride? For an additional $199 you can transform the Cowon Q5W into a capable wide-screen GPS navigation system. Not the prettiest thing to hang in your car, though, is it?

Performance
Audio fidelity has always been one of Cowon's strong suits, and the Q5W carries on this tradition. Included with the Q5W is the same exhaustive list of JetShell sound-enhancement features found in its standout D2 and iAudio 7 players. While the music may sound fantastic, sorting it on the Cowon Q5W is a mess. The menu structure on the Q5W is strictly a hierarchal listing of files and folders, with no means to sort music using common ID3 tags such as artist, album, genre, or song title. We do like the Q5W's support for album artwork, although we wish the interface showed it more prominently on the luxurious 5-inch screen.

Fortunately, Cowon really nailed the video player feature of the Q5W. Unlike music, sorting through movies using basic file-tree navigation is not a problem. Once selected, movies launched quickly and features such as bookmarking and scaling playback were a cinch. Advanced features such as multilanguage subtitle support, 3D stereo enhancement, and independently adjustable controls for brightness, contrast, and saturation, make the Cowon Q5W one of the most tweakable PVPs we've laid our hands on. An included AV cable lets you play your movies on your television, as well.

The Cowon Q5W might be a killer PVP, but its Wi-Fi capabilities need some work. Compared with the ease of the iPod Touch or Archos 605 WiFi, configuring the Q5W's Wi-Fi connection was a huge pain. Once up and running, we gave the Windows CE 5 edition of Internet Explorer a spin. After tweaking a few settings, we were able to get YouTube videos to play with no problem, although some flash video sites (like CNET) didn't fare as well.

Pairing the Q5W with a Bluetooth headset wasn't nearly as convoluted as configuring its Wi-Fi connection. The bigger question is what to do with the Bluetooth connection once you have it. If you have Bluetooth-capable speakers around the house, perhaps the most practical Bluetooth application of the Q5W is to use it as a handheld wireless jukebox--albeit an expensive one.


Anyone know why there's this little, retractable antenna on the Cowon Q5W? Don't expect it to pick up any TV or radio broadcasts--it's actually a Wi-Fi antenna.

Few of the Q5W's most interesting features would be of any use without an onscreen keyboard. The Q5W's touch-screen keyboard can be launched at any time from the bottom menu bar and operated either with the included stylus, or enlarged for use with your fingers. While the Cowon Q5W's onscreen keyboard can't hold a candle to the intelligent multitouch keyboard used on the iPod Touch, it's comparable with the keyboard found on the Archos 605 WiFi.

Finally, there's the question of battery life. Cowon estimates that the Q5W's battery can endure 7 hours of video playback and 14 hours of audio. While Cowon's numbers seem to give the Q5W an edge over the competition, historically we've found that PVP battery-life ratings can vary drastically based on backlight settings, volume, and wireless use. We'll update this review with our official CNET labs results once testing is complete. Regardless of the final results, users should know that the Q5W can only be charged using an included power adapter (so don't lose it). Total charging time is estimated at 5.5 hours.

Final thoughts
Only a handful of high-capacity (30GB and up) PVPs that compete with the Q5W, namely the Archos 605 WiFi, the Creative Zen Vision W, and Cowon's own A3. The Archos 605 WiFi has the most features in common with the Q5W, including Wi-Fi, an 800x480 screen resolution, and touch-screen navigation. Philosophically (and financially) they are very different products. Cowon tends to include as many features as possible right out of the box, whereas Archos offers customers a base product that users can upgrade as they see fit. There's no clear victor between the two devices, except to say that if you do not value the Q5W's built-in video output, extensive file support, Bluetooth capability, integrated Microsoft applications, and superior sound-enhancement technology, you should probably save your money by opting for a competitor.

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