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Cowon D2+ hands-on

Donald Bell gets his hands on the Cowon D2+ touch-screen MP3 player from Cowon and offers his first impressions along with a photo gallery.

Photo of the Cowon D2 Plus MP3 player.
The "plus" version of the Cowon D2 offers improved sound and a prettier interface than its predecessor. Click for more photos. Donald Bell/CBS Interactive

I just got my hands on the latest D2+ MP3 player from Cowon, which began shipping in the U.S. earlier this week. Unlike the multihued models available overseas, the U.S. version of the D2+ only comes in black (with a possibility of silver coming eventually), and is priced at $139 (8GB) and $179 (16GB).

If you remember the original Cowon D2 from 2007, then the D2+ isn't going to seem like much of a shocker. The majority of the spec sheet features are the same: 2.5-inch QVGA resistive touch screen; music playback (MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, WAV,APE), video (AVI, WMV), photos, FM radio, text reader, and voice recorder. Rated battery life is still the same, excellent 52 hours of audio and 10 hours of video. Dimensions, same. Buttons, same. Kickstand, USB port, SDHC slot...same, same, same.

Fortunately, we were already big fans of the original D2, so Cowon didn't need to do much to keep us interested. The big news here is that Cowon upgraded the D2's already mind-blowing audio enhancement settings with the latest BBE+ technology (also included in the recent Cowon S9). I don't have an older D2 to compare against, but I can say subjectively that the sound really is fantastic, and I actually find the EQ and effect settings on the D2+ a little easier to navigate than on the S9--which emphasized presets over individual settings. The EQ on the D2+ also offers adjustable EQ frequency filters and bandwidth settings for the super-picky users, which I remember seeing on the S9 and Cowon O2, but not on the original D2.

The graphic user interface on the Cowon D2+ has also been given a thorough polish, borrowing from the Cowon O2's cleaner, more modern looking icons and menus. I'll need a little more time with the D2+ to see if there have been any functional improvements to navigation and menus, but so far it just seems like a prettier-looking version of the D2's original (and practical) menu scheme.

I do have some initial criticisms, though. First and foremost, there's no AAC audio support. I made this same complaint about the Cowon S9, but it seems even more relevant now that America's largest online music retailer (iTunes) sells its music in the AAC format and has ditched the DRM that once made songs incompatible with non-iPod devices. Don't get me wrong, I think iTunes should sell songs as MP3s just like the rest of the world (add an option for FLAC, while you're at it, Apple), but Zune, Sony, Samsung, and Creative have all seen the light on AAC, and Cowon should too.

Another complaint I had of the Cowon S9 that I'll lay on the D2+ is support for h.264 videos. In the two years since the original D2, the worlds of online-video downloads and podcasts have exploded, and much of the content uses the iPod-compatible h.264 video format as a standard. If you could drag and drop this content onto the D2+ without tedious conversion, life would be sweet. For what it's worth, I was able to natively play the small-format XVID files offered over at Revision3.

The third thing I noticed that I'm a little bummed about is that Cowon left off the metal accents that made the original D2 feel so classy and durable. Instead, the D2+ uses an all-plastic design that, frankly, feels just a little cheaper than the original D2. To make up for it, though, Cowon is selling a kit of metallic stickers (sold separately) to give your D2+ a little added *bling.* The decals are a fun idea (kinda), but it sure ain't metal.

I'll have more thoughts to share next week. Until then, take a look at our Cowon D2+ photo gallery.