Cowon is known for making media players that do what the user wants, rather than what the manufacturer will allow. Monopolists like Apple and Microsoft control what media you may play, but a Cowon device doesn’t give a rat’s ass: Toss it a media file, and it’ll do its level best to play it regardless of codec, format, or file type. Granted, the Cowon O2 can’t play every file in existence, but it plays most, no questions asked. Still, while we like this plucky player’s can-do attitude, we found that a few flaws plus a few trimmed abilities that reduce it to second fiddle staus when stacked against the similarly-priced A3.
That’s not to say we didn’t like it. The O2 is in many ways and improvement over the A3. It’s smaller, thinner, and it runs cooler (yet it’s still a chunky monkey compared to an iPod Touch). Because it uses flash rather than a drive, there’s less chance of a malfunction. The newly added SD slot on the side lets you boost the storage up to 32GB. The touch screen means no more messing with a silly joystick to navigate. And both Macs and PCs immediately recognize it as a simple drive — if you have half a brain, you can organize your media yourself, without a cumbersome application hooked up to the copyright police. While there is a faint grid pattern on the screen, videos nevertheless look good on the 4.3-inch, 480 x 272-pixel display. And the O2’s amazing 8-hour battery life will keep you vegging out to flicks from O’Hare to Heathrow, with some juice to spare.
But there are an equal number of downers. While the O2 is a direct descendant of the A3, it’s missing many of its charms: Gone is the super-cool line-in recording that lets you record TV shows, as is the FM tuner and FM recording. The O2’s single speaker is terribly weak, and for some reason, it doesn’t switch automatically to headphones when you insert them; you have to manually select the audio output. The O2 also comes with a weird little stylus that doubles as a stand, but this is wobbly — a kickstand would be much more stable.
Kids don’t always turn out better than their daddies, and though the O2 does have some clear improvements over its sire, it’s shortcomings make it a zero-sum game. We’re looking forward to the next in the O Series; fixing the O2s few flaws would make it a must-buy. If you want this model, go for the pricier 32GB version and augment it with an SD card.