For those of you who have been longing for a flash-based MP3 player that resembles your treasured Hot Wheels toy car of the past, your prayers have been answered. The uniquely designed black Cowon iAudio F1, available at 1GB for around £110, will keep most owners happy with a host of features that include excellent sound quality, an FM radio/recorder, voice and line-in recording and support for OGG audio files. However, we should point out that this little race car does not support WMA files with DRM, and real-world battery life came in way under Cowon's rating.
The Cowon iAudio F1's OLED (128x64 pixels) is bright, active, and easy to read, although colour is limited to only blue and orange. It features scrolling song titles, graphic EQ and track time, not to mention battery life and track information, such as bit rate and the ability to show the song's lyrics. The highlight of the GUI has to be the fluctuating stereo volume and the time-elapsed meters, which look like a car's dash instrumentation panel. While the novelty of the shape of the player might wear off quickly, the player's size is definitely pocket-friendly, measuring a mere 76 by 36 by 18mm and weighing a slight 40g. In comparison, the LCD-less iPod Shuffle weighs 23g.
The Cowon iAudio F1 ships with a tiny USB adaptor, an uncommon headphone-jack-to-USB adaptor, decent headphones, a line-in cable, a USB cable, a manual and software (JetShell and JetAudio 6). As with most flash players and even many hard drive players, you don't get an AC adaptor, which is optional.
The Cowon iAudio F1 supports a number of file types, including MP3, OGG, WMA, ASF and WAV, but not purchased or subscription-based WMA files. While the iAudio F1 is a decent flash-based player packed with a good number of features, it did have some problems. The menu can be a little cumbersome to navigate, even seeming a bit counterintuitive at times, but with the help of the instruction manual and a slight learning curve, it's not a concern -- but maybe an annoyance to some users. The iAudio has a five-way joystick for menu navigation and volume control, while the corners surrounding the joystick handle the play, record, menu and pop-up controls. It's an interesting design choice, putting all necessary functions at thumb's length, but the overall experience is still not ideal for first-time users.
The rechargeable, nonremovable lithium battery is rated at 22 hours, but CNET Labs was able to coax only about 14 hours out of the device. The player synced effortlessly with Windows Media Player 10, and it can be used with Windows Explorer and Mac OS, but transfer times over USB 2.0 (1.5MB per second) were considerably slower than those of the iAudio U3 (3.2MB per second).
All of the Cowon iAudio F1's recordings are made at a maximum of 128Kbps (MP3). The quality of recordings was solid, while overall sound quality was nice -- full-bodied and crisp, plus no shortage of bass or volume.
In addition to a 95dB signal-to-noise ratio, Cowon's excellent set of preset and user-EQ settings, as well as BBE sound enhancement, make the iAudio F1 a car with a dynamic engine, but unfortunately, gas mileage isn't economical. Those seeking a solid MP3 player with a little extra panache, we present you with the Cowon iAudio F1. Gentlemen and ladies, start your engines.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Kate Macefield