The Cowon J3 doesn’t aim for the stars – at least, not in the plural. If there’s one this lightweight, solid media player shoots for, it’s top notch media playback that’s easy on the ears and eyes. Does it hit the mark? Read on and find out in this section of our Cowon J3 review.
Sure, there’s no Wi-Fi, but the Cowon J3 more than makes up for it with top notch media playback. Sound quality is near unparalleled on a media player of this size and price: even lowly MP3s sound rich and crisp, with deep, thumping bass should you feel in the mood for it: a ton of presets triggered by the drop down menu at the top of the screen let you pick the right settings for your songs. Scrubbing through songs is just a matter of tapping the time bar along the bottom to the right point, and physical track skip and pause buttons along the side of the Cowon J3 mean you won’t have to turn the screen on to move through your music, even if there are no controls on the supplied headphones.
Music file format support is varied, with the low end covered by MP3 (Though not AAC, we should flag up), and FLAC and APE at the top end for audio purists with large lossless audio libraries, and they sound divine. They’ll soon fill up the 16GB of storage onboard the Cowon J3, it’s true, but you can toss in up to an extra 32GB with the right microSD card, and well, it’s worth the trade off for sound quality: they come through crystal clear and beautiful. Make no mistake, the Cowon J3 is one of the best sounding media players ever made.
The Cowon J3’s video skills are impressive too, though more for the screen than the file support. While some new smartphones and PMPs are starting to offer broad format support and even HD video playback to a TV, the Cowon J3 just trundles along with H.264 MP4 files and DivX and Xvid AVIs. That said, that’s still more varied than any iPod, so will satisfy many a video downloader, and the OLED screen forgives all: clips look absolutely sensational on it.
All this leaves the the Cowon J3 a solid contender for any music fans without an iTunes account. But, and it’s a conjunction Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud of, trying to open all these files in the first place is surprisingly difficult. South Korean gadget companies aren’t exactly known for cranking out products with user friendly UIs, and navigation on the Cowon J3 is typically obtuse. It looks nice, right? It’s a shame it makes no sense.
Sometimes you’ll stumble on a nice list of album art or pictures (If you root around in Settings), but jumping around the different music tag categories while playing a song is baffling. For instance, it took us a good 15 minutes to figure out how to get back to the artist selection screen once you start playing a track. While it’s not nearly as hard to find all the different equalizer settings, that still amounts to a navigation fail on Cowon’s part.
The extras are mostly pointless too: an FM radio is welcome of course, but there’s also a Flash player crippled by the need to preload FLV files, a memopad with an unresponsive on screen keyboard, and a game that involves you guiding the severed head of a chicken around the sky with your finger (No, really). Oh, and if you want to adjust the screen brightness to save battery life, you can do it from the homescreen, but only by prodding an unlabeled picture of a Mini Cooper (Again, really), so be glad we told you.
It’s a pity that top notch media players still require you to trade in a user friendly UI for superb sonics in 2010. We’d rather have our cake and eat it, but if you prioritise the latter over everything else, the Cowon J3 is the best option on the market right now.
Cowon J3 review unit supplied by advancedmp3players.co.uk