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Cowon iAudio 9 MP3 player tested

Cowon's latest entrant into the MP3 player arena is the iAudio 9 -- an iPod nano-sized effort with touch-sensitive controls. We apply our critical appendages

Cowon's latest entrant into the MP3 player arena is the iAudio 9 -- an iPod nano-sized effort with touch-sensitive controls, a 51mm (2-inch) LCD display, but few compelling reasons to look twice at it.

This is what we call a boring player, but not in a don't-buy-it way. It's like that dull kid at the party: he shows up in boring clothes, has nothing interesting to say, but he's perfectly pleasant to talk to and perfectly nice to have around. But he could leave and no-one would notice or give a damn if they did.

In terms of specs it's above average. Our tests confirmed it plays MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, WMA, WMA Lossless and APE audio formats, and WMV and XviD video files up to 640x480 pixels. It wouldn't play Apple Lossless, AIFF, MusePack or Real audio files though, or H.264 or even MPEG-4 SP videos.

That's not going to keep us awake at night, since the screen is too small to be useful as a video player. But it's a bright display and menus are crisp, clear and well laid-out. To navigate them you use the touch-sensitive control pad thing, which we've never liked.

What bugs us most about it is you have to slide your finger up and down a diagonal strip to move up and down menus, but move your finger to the play/pause button to select items. Why can't you just tap the middle of the diagonal strip? Very annoying. Apart from that it's reasonably easy to use, and it's a well-built and lightweight player as well.

Other features include an FM radio, a built-in speaker, loads of audio-enhancement settings to make up for the fact that the bundled headphones are utter bullwaste (replace them), and a voice recorder via an internal microphone.

The problem is, it just doesn't whisper sweet nothings and kiss our necks in a way that makes us ask it not to stop. We'd rather it just went home or tried it on with someone else, even if its sound quality is top-notch though good headphones.

It's available now in 8GB and 16GB capacities (no expansion slot available) from Advanced MP3 Players, costing £99 and £120 respectively.