Let's get bad stuff out of the way quickly: navigation looks simple but getting used to the extremely fiddly mini-joystick is nearly impossible. No ID3 tag data is read from music for some inane reason, so you'll need to sort by folder and file name. There's also no support for gapless playback.
Now, while audio quality is close to perfect -- especially when listening to lossless audio -- it's video that shows how capable this system is. Let it be known that this has the best screen we have ever seen on any media player -- it's so crisp it's hard not to smile. Playback for most videos is smooth and glitch-free, but we had poor results with HD content. With some HD XviD videos encoded at 1,280x720 pixels at 6Mbps we had smooth audio but juddery video. The same happened with HD WMV. And H.264. Safe to say this was a disappointment.
But with standard definition content it's unrivalled, even by the Q5W or the 605 WiFi. It even puts the iPod touch to shame. DivX and Xvid videos are stunning, and outputting them to TV is both simple and visually rewarding. Recording video gave decent results, too. Using the supplied composite AV cable, recording with 720x480-pixel resolution at 3Mbps from DVD, we recorded the whole of Mission: Impossible into perfectly acceptable quality, though a direct DVD transfer using the VOB files will be your best bet.
The A3 is probably the most capable portable video player on the market today. For its price, it's a killer, as long as you can get used to navigating with a joystick that we'd pay good money to have removed. It beats its brother the Q5W in both price and functionality; it beats the Archos on performance and file support and beats the iPod touch on image quality. But where the Archos and the iPod beat the A3 is on ease of use.
There are clear areas in which it has obvious competitors: if you want more storage, look at the Archos 605 WiFi. If you want painfully simple operation, look at the iPod touch. But if you want the most capable handheld video player on the planet, look at the Cowon A3.
Available from AdvancedMP3Players.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday