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Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Thursday, July 14, 2005
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The write-up on Cowon’s iAudio X5 is coming later, but for now, I wanted to share a handful of interesting photographs with those of you who are interested in the iPod’s competitors, and the possible directions Apple could take with upcoming iPod technologies. People really seemed to like our look at Sony’s iPod shuffle challenger, which according to news reports today has apparently beaten the shuffle in Japanese sales - only one territory, but one where the iTunes Music Store has long been overdue.

This recently-released iPod competitor from Korea’s Cowon offers 20GB or 30GB of storage capacity, support for major music formats, and the ability to play back photos and MPEG4 movie clips on its color screen. It’s PC, Mac OS, and Linux compatible - the latter two only for data transfers, but that’s enough.

The screen looks pretty good, but varies based on viewing angle. Controls are situated on the unit’s front and right sides; the headphone port is on the left, with a USB -input- port. More on that point later.

It’s quite comparable in size to a 20GB iPod - thinner and thicker at points because of its curved casing and elevated joystick - but it does some seriously interesting things with its screen and firmware. Click on Read More for a few of the key features.

Graphic equalizers with (generally) easy to understand presets along the left side.

Real recording capabilities, individually programmable by bit rate for voice recording (up to 128kbps from the internal microphone), line-in recording (up to 320k with the included cable), or FM radio recording (up to 320kbps from the internal tuner). Yup. Yup. Yup. Recording is the one big choice Apple needs to make with future iPods: support real integrated recording, or become the screwed-up Sony of the next generation. Everyone’s asking for something better than the crippled voice-quality sampling found in current iPods.

Not too big, is it? The list price of the 20GB model is $329, but you can find it for $299. A 30GB model is $379, discounted to $349. Only one hitch: they run for 14 hours, according to Cowon, and you’ll have to pay $30 more for X5L versions with better (35 hour) battery life.

Cowon humorously tosses in advertisements for its other MP3 players as sample video clips - one would imagine there will eventually be silhouettes (and hopefully something better, like the 1984 commercial) on an iPod’s screen too. But hey, whose team is U2 on, anyway? (wink, wink)

A couple more screens of that interface. Gotta love the integrated FM tuning, and the old 320Kbps number in the bottom corner of the other shot. We’ll have more to say on the iAudio X5 soon.

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Comments

1

That is one sweet looking player

Posted by andy on July 14, 2005 at 10:47 PM (PDT)

2

I congratulate iLounge for looking at other music players. Thankyou. And good writeup.

Posted by Adam on July 15, 2005 at 2:08 AM (PDT)

3

Why did they ruin it by having “Color Sound” on the side of the screen?

Posted by daveoc64 on July 15, 2005 at 3:52 AM (PDT)

4

I hate to say it, but I’m seriously considereing purchasing this. I’m going to wait awhile to see what Apple unveils as its true 5th gen iPod. But this looks like a quality product with a ton of functions. I can’t wait to read some reviews.

Posted by joe on July 15, 2005 at 11:31 AM (PDT)

5

I upgraded from ipod mini to the x5l.  It is one sweet player with lots of freedom from itunes.

Posted by David on July 15, 2005 at 1:12 PM (PDT)

6

This player looks *GREAT* and I’m seriously considering buying one. One question about the player that I haven’t been able to find an acceptable answer for is..

How’s the software? How does it compare to iTunes in terms of sync and library management? I can’t imagine using drag*drop folders to manage 20-30GB of music.

Posted by ash8080 in Florida, USA on July 15, 2005 at 3:23 PM (PDT)

7

One thing that makes me not want this as much as I want. If you look at other reviews (check cnet.com), they show how you need the adapter on the bottom to plug in usb, power, line in, and line out. And you can also get these on eBay for $280, but you can get an iPod 20gb with color screen from Apple for $269. (If in college or family member is, or if teacher or family member is.)

Posted by Mike's Bike on July 15, 2005 at 7:04 PM (PDT)

8

My inner nerd is telling me to save up for this, but im gonna wait for the 5G. One question though, how come you can get up to 35 hours of battery life on somthing like that, but iPod is just getting to 15? Does iPod need a sleep mode that badly. Battery life is the one thing that I cant say im a fan of with the iPod..as well as no radio or built in recorder come to think of it *Prays for remedy in 5G*

Cool player, if the 5G isn’t a major upgrade, ill probably invest in this instead.

Posted by demonic_bunny on July 16, 2005 at 12:27 AM (PDT)

9

While this player looks to have the features readers have asked from the iPod but haven’t got, I think the iPod looks to be better quality than the Cowon iAudio X5. When I was deciding on buying my first MP3 player, my Dad told me to go with the iPod because he said “its not quantaty, its quality you want”. He was damn right. My reasons for this being that:

1. Look at the color screen on the iAudio caompared to the iPod’s, its just too obvious which one is better.

2. Looks at the user interface, it looks a little more complicated to me.

3. Looks at the design, the iPod is much more sleek.

But I think Apple needs to catch up now and secure they’re place at the top for good. If they came out with technology in 2001 that took competitors a good few years to catch up with (1G iPod), they can do it now.

Eddie ‘92

Posted by Eddie '92 on July 16, 2005 at 2:44 AM (PDT)

10

Maaan, all i wan’t is a FM Radio on the 5G iPod…

Posted by Melik on July 16, 2005 at 9:26 AM (PDT)

11

Although they may not have beaten Apple for the top mp3-player, I do think that Cowon has topped iRiver in the “uber-geek” mp3 player category.

Posted by coreywhompus on July 16, 2005 at 12:29 PM (PDT)

12

@ Eddie’92
dont compare ipod’s sound quality to iAudio please.. i don’t know about the built quality but as far as the sound quality goes, iaudio is 100 times better and anyone else will say that, all the eqs on ipod are useless, but not with the iaudio you can even create your own eq settings. when it comes to sound quality its iaudio you want, but the only bad thing about the x5 is that it doesnt sort songs by id3tag, you have to sort it by your self by creating folders, whicih can take a long time to create, and also there isn’t a clickwheel but a joystick, so you have to scroll down one at a time, to view through 1000s of songs, without being able to skip folders

Posted by jstyle on July 16, 2005 at 7:24 PM (PDT)

13

“Although they may not have beaten Apple for the top mp3-player, I do think that Cowon has topped iRiver in the “uber-geek? mp3 player category.”

Yeah, because owning the most feature laden player on the market is certainly “uber-geek”.

Posted by Mxracer250f on July 16, 2005 at 9:53 PM (PDT)

14

This thing doesn’t sort by ID3 tags, it sorts by how you setup folders. It also doesn’t support any kind of Smart Playlist. It looks like it is a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none device.

Posted by random on July 16, 2005 at 11:56 PM (PDT)

15

As an owner of a 30gig X5L (the one with the 35 hour battery life), I have to say that this is not a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none device.  Looking at this soley as an mp3 player meant to play music, the X5 does have better sound quality (look elsewhere for the details). It plays more formats: mp3 wma ogg flac wav, those being the big ones.

Now of course aac support would be nice, then again so would mpc, but compare this to the iPod, better sound quality, more formats, and near gapless, not to mention a more extensive amount of EQ possibilities. This for me makes a better AUDIO player. So it at least got one thing right no?

On the flip side, photo playback isn’t perfect, and video is, well, just about what you should expect from a screen this size. FM radio isn’t bad, plus USB host, so this thing does edge out the H3xx series for features, if only for greater format support.

Now just one last comment…the 35 hour battery life on the X5L is not due to just shuttin off the screen quickly, or going into “sleep” or whatever you may call it. It is due to a MASSIVE battery, which makes the X5L larger than the X5, and feels suprisingly weighter for its size. This is not a knock on the L, but thats just something to keep in mind.

Posted by Fryhole on July 17, 2005 at 10:37 AM (PDT)

16

is there video out?

Posted by rhino on July 17, 2005 at 12:51 PM (PDT)

17

Nope, sorry, no video out. But the video files on the X5 have to be 160x120, or 160x128 (don’t ask me why, no idea) to work properly, and although Cowon says up to 15fps, it doesn’t work all that well that high, gets hickups you dig?

Jetaudio, cowon’s software…coverts it at 12fps by default any way. Now just for the sake of it, image what 160x120 12fps would look like on even a 25inch plain as dirt CRT. Bad. Very Bad.

Posted by Fryhole on July 18, 2005 at 6:45 PM (PDT)

18

I would still get an ipod…

Posted by master on July 19, 2005 at 5:48 PM (PDT)

19

About it being a “It looks like it is a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none device:” This device does have a lot of features, a lot of stuff that didnt interest me in buying a DAP, but they dont hurt as extras. Sound quality to sound quality, the X5 absolutely takes the cake compared to the iPod, just listen to it once Im sure you will agree. The iPod is more user-friendly if you already have Itunes, but the X5 doesn’t even require any software. Users with larger music libraries, such as myself, will say this is a downside to the X5- it does require more organization. Then again, Cowon is releasing a firmware update soon that will include ID3tag-databasing.

I love the iPod, saved up all the money for it, chose the X5, and I’m so happy I did. Sound quality and build quality alone, nevermind the other features, are as good as anything else out there. (You really have to hear it to believe me.. Id rather listen to music through this and some decent headphones than my stereo! And the detail and quality of the device in your hand will definitely impress you.)

I commend Ipodlounge for considering the competitors. Good site! Enjoy.

Posted by Joe187 on July 19, 2005 at 6:18 PM (PDT)

20

This is nice but as an iPod third party developer the iAudio does not have the features an iPod has for integration into the car or home.

Posted by KAPPY on July 19, 2005 at 7:13 PM (PDT)

21

Reviewing players by other manufacturers?  NOW the name change to ‘ilounge’ makes sense…

Even though the HD is WAY too small for me, I wondered just how good the 20GB Cowon really is after reading and watching the gushing reviews over at c/net.  Sounds like they’ve got a potential winner, at least for MP3 users; shame that it doesn’t support non-DRM AAC files. At this point, I don’t want to revert back to MP3 or WMA; I suppose all I’m willing to do is hope that Apple is paying attention at their competition and answer the challenge.

Now that a year has almost passed, I’m really getting TIRED of the quirks that my 40GB 4G has: slowly fading screen contrast…menus that mysteriously go blank (but ONLY the text, not the borders and graphics) when the screen goes to sleep…the AWFUL, ever-annoying static of the headphone jack with certain aftermarket headphones (and with Apple’s own remote)...the only average sonic quality when compared to my older Creative and iRiver HD players…the non-continuous scrolling through the alphabet…the noisy gaps between songs, particularly during random play…and that blasted battery who’s charge hold seems to be getting weaker and weaker way too soon. My 3G, for all it’s problems, was never quite this bad.

Pretty looks and a simple-to-understand interface only go so far, especially with usage over any extended length of time. Here’s hoping the 5G really ups the ante, and fixes the shortcomings of the 4G.

Posted by flatline response on July 20, 2005 at 12:50 PM (PDT)

22

lol, wait till’ Rio comes out with their next gen player. ~,^ The Rio Karma, in my eyes, has had the better features, better sound quality (it’s proven), gapless playback etc. It’s too bad the marketing was almost non-existant.

Anyway, gapless playback was already used for the Karma, it’s not like the iAudio is anything new except a miniscule color screen.

Posted by LiQuiD_FuSioN on July 21, 2005 at 2:42 PM (PDT)

23

Looks nice. Audio quality? A point that Apple needs to look at. Look at how much better the Shuffle’s quality is to the bigger iPods. Apple can do it - it’s just that they haven’t across the board. Good audio quality isn’t rocket science.

15fps video? With occasional skipping? No thanks. And WMA? Whatever - MP3 and AAC are the standards - Vorbis support is great though. iPod city, here I come.

Posted by Pikemann_Urge on July 22, 2005 at 2:38 AM (PDT)

24

Seems like a decent player, but no video out! What the hell is the point then? Watch super small 15fps videos that occasionally skip?  You can already do that with the linux video player for iPod.

Posted by theothermike on July 22, 2005 at 5:27 AM (PDT)

25

All this hype about video, I don’t care. For me these devices are music and speeches. That’s it is, or this it should be, for the sake of a low price, a low weight and a small size.

And now the X5: A really big plus for me is the folder navigation, I like to sort out new files and older ones, and put the hottest fresh things in a starter folder so to say. As intuitive as the iPod interface is, that it only supports ID3 tags makes them really unpleasant for me. The sad thing with Cowon’s X5 is that they promised to go over to the tag camp too. Why not both systems? My Archos XS200 can do it, the iRiver H320 can do it.

And now the other side of interface ergonomics: the clickwheel against this mini joystick. I always hated these sticks, this alone could drive me into the arms of Apple. Why Cowon did not reenvent or circumvented the clickwheel, I don’t know.

Posted by Albert in Berlin on July 22, 2005 at 10:44 AM (PDT)

26

“the only bad thing about the x5 is that it doesnt sort songs by id3tag, you have to sort it by your self by creating folders, whicih can take a long time to create, and also there isn’t a clickwheel but a joystick, so you have to scroll down one at a time, to view through 1000s of songs, without being able to skip folders”

Why do people make comments like this all the time? or questions of how the software is compared to iTunes? ITUNES IS FREE MUSIC MANAGING SOFTWARE. You go to apple.com and download it whether you have an iPod, a Rio, a Sony MD, whatever. It’s the same as windows media player. Besides, when you put music in iTunes, it automatically sorts it in the iTunes folder in folder format the most organized way to sort it; genre, artist, album, song title. This way you are still both using your ID3 tag system and the folder system at the same time. Music Match does this also (and better if you have the paid version), WMP should have it also (not sure), and so do a dozen other music manging programs. They all work the same way besides for maybe licensed music with DRM or which type of tags they use though most are the same. The best part of it is you can have each program for free! Just cause you have one doesnt mean you cant have the other. iLounge needs to post more tutorials on how to use music managing software. Maybe rid people of the idea that an mp3 file is different for an iPod than it is for a “Plays For Sure” microsoft MP3 player or other.

Posted by Andres on July 24, 2005 at 7:44 PM (PDT)

27

Ok, there is the syncing thing. Not any program can sync with any player, but many of the people making the questions aren’t worried about that. Or don’t know that they can tag with or organize with one program (iTunes) and then still drag and drop (or whatever this uses) into your iAudio or other mp3 player.

Posted by andres on July 24, 2005 at 7:50 PM (PDT)

28

i think you all are being kinda stupid, talking about how much better ipod is,smart playlists and crap like that. if you cant create your own playlist in a folder you make, you shouldnt be allowed near a computer. i hate apple, and the only reason i got an ipod was cuz i hate cd players even more. their interface sucks, itunes sucks, and any other product with similar capabilities should be praised, if for nothing else than being able to muscle their way into the market without nearly as much influence as apple.

Posted by yeah on August 5, 2005 at 10:17 PM (PDT)

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