Take one look at the Cowon iAudio X5's feature list and you might peg it as an iPod killer. On paper, the 30GB, iPod-size X5 (£290; also available at 20GB for £250) has everything that Apple's ice-white wonder does -- including music playback, a photo viewer and on-the-fly playlists -- then it piles on video playback, an FM radio, voice and line-in recording, and even the ability to read and save images directly from a digital camera without an adaptor. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
Unfortunately, the X5 suffers from poor music browsing, some odd design choices and a half-baked photo viewer. Additionally, converting your videos so that they'll work on the player is a multistep process. Video addicts willing to process their movies for the X5 and who don't mind viewing them on a 51mm (2-inch) screen might get a kick out of the palm-size device. But music lovers with gigabytes of songs and iPod converts accustomed to seamless iTunes integration should think carefully before taking the plunge. Fortunately for X5 users, a promised firmware update in early August will make the player easier to use, compatible with music stores and services, and an overall better device -- with a CNET.co.uk rating closer to 8.0.
Measuring 61 by 104 by 18mm and weighing 180g, the black and silver Cowon iAudio X5 is about the same size as the iPod, but it's lighter, with a thin lower half that slopes inward from the 51mm LCD. Just below the screen is a tiny, five-way navigational joystick, similar to those we've seen on Cowon's flash-memory players. The play and record buttons as well as a power slider sit on the right side of the device. While the spare layout gives the X5 a clean, uncluttered look, it's a pain having the play button relegated to the right side of the player. We wish it were right next to the joystick for easier access. And for that matter, a scrollwheel or a touch-sensitive slider for navigating our 30GB of files would have been nice.
We love the X5's small size and smooth scratch-resistant exterior, but the player's compact form factor comes with a price: namely, the separate plug-in adaptor that houses the player's AC, USB and line-in and line-out inputs. The small adaptor (38 by 25 by 15mm) plugs into the bottom of the unit, and you'll need it to charge up the player, record from another device or transfer music and video from your PC, although you can use the X5's other USB port in USB Host mode (see Features). Using an adaptor probably allowed the designers at Cowon to make the main device as small as it is, but carrying the plastic plug-in around is a hassle, and losing it would be very inconvenient indeed, though you can purchase a replacement for about £5.