Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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.

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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.

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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.

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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.

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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.

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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)

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

 

Backstage: Cowon iAudio X5, previewed

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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