Cowon D2 Review

The new Cowon D2 is a pretty geeky-looking PMP that fits squarely (ok, rectangularly) in the palm of your hand, ready to play 30-fps video, photos, and music at the touch of a virtual button. With up to 4GB of internal flash storage plus an SD card slot–and a 50-hour battery life–the D2 can keep you mindlessly occupied for hours on end. That doesn’t include the time you’ll need to get familiar with the touchscreen-driven interface, though.

In some ways, the D2 is what I wish the iriver Clix would be. The 2.5-inch QVGA (320 by 240 pixels) screen takes up the entire front face of the D2, but it’s a touchscreen LCD instead of iriver’s clickable faceplate and 2.2-inch AMOLED display. But one of the D2’s biggest bummers is that the touchscreen captures your every fingerprint, rendering the screen impossible to see when there’s any kind of glare. The black (or white) and silver plastic body isn’t exactly sleek, but the overall size is still pretty small at just 3.1 by 2.2 by .7 inches.

The analog controls are along the top, including a hold/power switch, volume up/down, and a menu/custom button, as well as a pinhole mic for voice recordings. The AC power jack and standard USB mini ports (AC adapter and USB cable are included) are covered by a plastic door on the left side next to the headphone jack, and an SD card slot is on the bottom.

The D2 shows up as an external drive on Macs and PCs (and Linux boxes), but you can sync via Windows Media Player or your MTP-compatible client of choice if that’s your thing. While you can play music and other media off of an SD card, you can’t transfer files to or from the card.

Using the touchscreen is surprisingly easy, thanks to just the right amount of sensitivity and a mostly well-thought-out interface that works well with your fingers or the included stylus (which doubles as a kickstand). But the menus aren’t always intuitive; I often found myself in the wrong menu or accidentally stopping a track or video. I’m into the user-assignable menu button–when you tap it once, you’re brought to the main screen, but when you hold it down, you can set it to be a play/pause or track skip button.

The integrated FM tuner is sensitive enough to pick up even fringe stations very well, and you can record radio at up to 256Kbps in MP3 format. The voice recorder also works fairly well, though the tiny pinhole mic is very easy to overload. For better recordings, purchase the optional line-in cable and use a real mic and preamp.

The D2 can play WMA (including PlaysForSure audio content), MP3, OGG, FLAC, WAV, and APE, plus AVI files (320 by 240 or less). To create playable video files, I recommend using the excellent and extremely speedy included JetAudio video conversion software. Unfortunately, the D2 can’t handle protected video downloads.

The player’s file browser is tree-based; although you get artist and album info once a track is playing, you can’t browse by ID3 tags. You can make a single on-the-fly playlist, and you can set bookmarks in any file.

The D2’s sound quality with the stock earbuds is very good right out of the box–partly because several of the sound enhancement modules are active by default. I set everything to zero (or off), and the sound was still pleasing, but there’s nearly infinite opportunity to tweak it. Watch out, though: The bass distorts if you crank up the Mach3Bass and then try to bump up the bass again in the graphic equalizer.

Video and photo playback are both excellent in terms of clarity, smoothness, and color. Photos take a while to render fully, though, which can be a bit annoying, though it’s not a problem during slide shows. You can view media on an external monitor or TV, but you’ll need to pick up an optional video cable from Cowon.

Battery life is one of the D2’s biggest wins: It will play audio for around 50 hours and video for 8 to 10 hours–very impressive on both counts. The only thing better would be if the battery were removable.

Overall, this is one of the most versatile and satisfying players out there; the battery life alone is worth the price. You’ll get a lot more out of the D2 if you know what you’re doing. If not, you may want something with a simpler interface, like the iriver Clix or an iPod. will run you $189.99 for the 2GB model and $219.99 for the 4 gigger (TV output cable included if you buy direct).

Perhaps most important: If someone figures out why Cowon chose to use “Invincible” as the marketing tagline for the D2 (or would like to speculate), please let me know in the comments section below!