The iAudio's picture viewer falls well short when compared to the iPod's picture-handling capabilities. Once you've dragged and dropped images into the X5's Picture directory, you can scroll through your snapshots one by one or view them in a thumbnail format (nine at a time), and you can zoom in for greater detail. However, there's no slide-show feature, and you can't play music while viewing your images -- key features that the new colour iPod (and its predecessor, the Photo) gets right. This half-baked photo option reminds us a lot of the iRiver H320's. At least you can create folders in the main Picture directory, and you can turn any photo into the player's wallpaper, making for a clever way to personalise the X5.
Want to view the photos sitting in your digital camera? The X5's USB Host mode lets you connect a camera and view or copy the snapshots to the player -- a nice feature, save for the fact that only about 30 cameras from Olympus, Sony, Nikon, FujiFilm, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Panasonic and Kenox are supported. Cowon says more cameras may be added to the list in a future firmware upgrade.
Extra features include a text-file viewer, which lets you listen to music as you read, an autoresume, in which music files resume where you left off but movie files start at the beginning, several repeat modes, including A-B repeat, and an alarm.
We were impressed by the Cowon iAudio X5's sound quality; music sounded clear and crisp on the high end with plenty of room for rumbling bass (20Hz to 20KHz) and almost no perceptible hiss, thanks to a signal-to-noise ratio of 95dB. We were able to crank the volume to the earsplitting level of 20mW per channel. The included dumbbell-style earbuds sounded fine to our ears, but we recommend swapping them out for a better pair.
We had no trouble with our test recordings. There was no obvious sound distortion when recording from the line-in port, even with a reasonably loud source, and our voice memos and FM recordings came in loud and clear.
As mentioned above, the X5's video quality is about as good as you can expect with a 160x128-pixel display. The 260,000-colour LCD rendered rich, vivid colours, but the relatively low resolution results in a slight screen-door effect, and we detected a little jerkiness in movement due to the player's ceiling of 15 frames per second. As for digital photos, since the X5 doesn't transcode larger images into a device-friendly size, you'll have to wait a few seconds for images that are 1MB and more to render on the screen. Transfer time to the player over USB 2.0 was a brisk 12.4MB per second.
Cowon promises up to 14 hours of playback from the non-user-removable rechargeable lithium-ion battery. We were able to coax 14.4 hours playing back MP3 files. This is an average figure these days, but expect to get less if you're watching movies or checking out digital photos. If you've fallen in love with the iAudio X5, we recommend at least checking out the X5L, also available in 20GB and 30GB versions, and costing slightly more. While they both add about 5mm in thickness and a little weight (182g), the battery life is rated for up to 35 hours.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Nick Hide