Cowon X7; Enjoy More Content on a Bigger Screen

Imagine if you could have a personal media player, or PMP, with a big widescreen display, 160GB of storage space, a built-in FM radio, recording capabilities and more, all for less than $300. That sounds good, but you don’t have to imagine it. The Cowon X7 is real, and B&H sells it. The X7’s feature set and price point are compelling enough to make it a serious contender in the PMP arena.

I own a 160GB iPod classic. I use it to listen to music and to watch movies when I’m on the train. I’m very happy with it except that I wish the display was bigger. I also don’t like having to use iTunes to load content. iTunes is confusing, intrusive and unnecessary, but I guess it helps Apple by forcing people to the iTunes store where they can spend more money. It would also be nice if iPods came with a user manual, even if it was on disc. They certainly cost enough.

I bought the iPod classic because, at the time, I couldn’t get an iPod touch with more than 64GB of storage space. Today, almost three years later, the situation is still the same; the iPod classic is still the only one you can get with more than 64GB of storage space. Why is that? There are plenty of media players available with 16GB or less, but very few with more. The Cowon X7 has 160GB of storage space, so I could move right into it without having to sacrifice any of my content.

If you’re the type of person who uses a PMP mainly for listening to music, and you prefer a small media player that fits in a shirt pocket—without making the pocket sag six inches, that is—then you won’t like the X7. Even my iPod classic is too big for that; a coat pocket or pants pocket maybe, but never a shirt pocket.

There are plenty of MP3 players out there that are tiny, and ideal for listening to music. You can fit a lot of songs into just 4GB, but you’re not going to fit much video in such a small amount of storage space. If you’re like me, and you use your media player mostly while commuting, and you often watch video on it, then you’ll want something with a decent size screen and a generous amount of storage space. The Cowon X7 fits the bill and it couldn’t be easier to use.

The X7 works like a USB flash drive, as no special software is required to add or remove content. You just plug it into a USB port on your computer and it pops up as a new drive, ready for you to add or remove anything you like. It’s also very easy to use the X7 as a portable hard drive for transporting files. And it comes with a printed quick guide that explains all the basics, along with a complete user manual and drivers for Windows 98 on a mini CD.

The Cowon X7 is housed in a rugged matte-black casing and it has some weight to it; 7.5 ounces, which is less than half a pound. It’s heavier than my iPod classic, which weighs about 5 ounces, and twice as heavy as the iPod touch which weighs about 3.5 ounces. But since it has more than double the capacity of the touch, and a bigger screen, the extra weight is welcome. Of course some of the weight is due to the X7’s hefty battery which will provide up to 103 hours of audio playback or 10 hours of video playback. An AC adapter/charger is included with the X7, which can also be charged from any USB port. It takes 2.5 hours to charge the X7 using the power adapter and 5.6 hours from a USB port.

For watching video on the go, I think the Cowon X7 is the perfect size. It has a 4.3-inch touch-screen display with a 16:9 aspect ratio and native resolution of 480 x 272 pixels. The display is noticeably bigger than an iPod touch and almost three times the size of the iPod classic. Although the X7’s display has a lower resolution than either iPod model, the sharpness of the display receives no complaints from me. The X7 will play just abut any video file you throw at it, including AVI, WMV, ASF, DivX, Xvid and MPEG, including the MP4 variety. It’s even compatible with flash content including flash games and flash video.

The Cowon X7 has a headphone jack and a built-in speaker, so you have the option of disturbing those around you or not. The headphones aren’t bad, but I’m sure most folks will look for better quality headphones on the aftermarket. And the speaker is hard to hear in a noisy environment, but adequate when it’s quiet. Bluetooth connectivity allows the X7 to be used with wireless headphones.

The X7 has a built-in microphone and FM radio with multiple station presets, and you can record from either source. I set the FM radio to scan the airwaves, and it saved the frequencies of 24 local stations. I could quickly select any of the stations in memory, and all came in clearly, but only while using the headphones which are used as an antenna.

If you want to record an FM broadcast all you have to is press the record button on the radio display. It was very easy to record, but much harder to find the recording afterward; I had to select the browser (which isn’t for the Internet, just for X7 content), then go up, and from the library I had to select recordings, then FM radio recordings, and then the .WMA file with the correct date/time stamp. The sound quality of the recording was as good as the original broadcast. Voice recording using the built-in microphone is just as easy to do, and just as confusing to locate as FM recordings. You can also record audio using an optional line-input cable, and the X7 can be connected to big-screen monitor or TV set using an optional composite video/stereo audio output cable.

The sound quality of the X7 is good, even with the included headphones. But it’s also easy enough to custom tailor the sound quality to your liking. Cowon’s JetEffect 3.0 BBE+ audio enhancer gives you complete control over how everything sounds. There’s an EQ filter, a sound refiner, a bass enhancer, a surround sound effect, a stereo enhancer, and numerous other JetEffect presets that you can select to make your music sound the way you want it to. There are four user-defined presets that let you make multiple tweaks and save them as a setting that you can use over and over again. The X7 is compatible with MP3, MP2, WMA, OGG, FLAC, APE and WAV audio files.

In addition to music and video, the Cowon X7 can display JPEG pictures and text documents. Pictures can be sorted into any number of folders and can then be viewed individually of as a slide show. The display does not automatically switch between portrait and landscape orientations, but it’s easy enough to manually select the orientation. You can set any image to be shown in the background like wallpaper. Text documents can be copied to the X7 and viewed with manual or automatic scrolling or you can create text documents on the X7 using a virtual keyboard. A notepad utility lets you write notes and draw diagrams with the tip of your finger, and you can even select the pen type and ink color.

The X7 has lots more functionality, including alarms and a sleep timer, auto off, a calculator, a stop watch, a utility to view comic book images, bookmarks and more. It’s compatible with Windows ME and higher and Mac OS X 10.x. While I doubt many people will use it for anything but watching video and listening to music, it’s nice to have the other features included. But for use as a portable movie machine, nothing else compares.

I’ll probably wait until my iPod dies before I buy another PMP. But until then, the Cowon X7 will be at the top of my wish list.