Cowon's new O2 PMP follows on from the smashing Q5W and A3 of last year, but scraps hard disks in favour of flash memory and SD cards. It's one of the most exciting product releases of the year in the PMP category, so we were thrilled to get one of the first ever off the production line.
It comes in 16GB and 32GB flavours, with prices TBA in early November.
In many ways the O2 is the perfect size for a PMP: it's big enough to allow for a large 109mm (4.3-inch) touchscreen, yet small and light enough to fit in a trouser pocket. Its weight -- a paltry 206g -- is kept down by the lack of a spinning hard disk; flash memory is inherently lightweight.
This model differs from previous ones in that it's made entirely out of plastic. Gone is the expensive-feeling aluminium of the Q5W, which is a shame, but the resulting build-quality is still good. We would have appreciated a kickstand, mind.
The 480x272-pixel screen's good though, with excellent colour depth. But it's nowhere near as crisp as the Cowon A3's screen, or the new Archos 5's. Well-encoded video content is undeniably beautiful, but we have seen better from Cowon before.
We've also seen other things from Cowon before. Namely, superb audio performance and feature-packed products. We'll talk sound quality later, but the O2 does everything possible to squeeze in file format support, as per usual. It supports an unthinkably huge number of audio formats, including MP3, WMA, AC3, AAC, FLAC, OGG Vorbis, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless (not advertised, but it works -- we checked), True Audio, Monkey's Audio, MusePack, WavPack and WAV.
Video support is equally impressive as well, with supported formats including DivX, Xvid, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 SP, H.264, WMV, MKV, OGM, DAT and MTV. And this list also included 720P high-definition Xvid and DivX in our tests, though not high-def H.264 or MKV, which, safe to say, is an almighty shame. Soft-subtitling for the hearing-impaired or anime-obsessed is supported in the .SRT format, and it worked very well when we tested it. Soft-subs inside the MKV container didn't work, however.
Like the Cowon A3, you can output all video content using a bundled AV cable, and you can record content directly into FLAC using an external microphone. However, our super-early pre-production unit came without these abilities, so we'll update this bit when our final shipping model arrives.
The O2 almost feels like a cute hybrid of the Q5W and A3, but without the style of the Q5W or the advanced video capabilities of the A3 (such as real-time video encoding and support for DVD VOB files). But there are two selling points which make it unique for us.
The first is the graphical user interface. The Q5W's was touch-controlled but clunky and badly executed; the A3's was attractive but a pain to control with the system's fiddly joystick. The O2 offers an almost iPhone-like GUI, with attractive icons and a fairly responsive touchscreen.
Deeper menus are less appealing. Files are still sorted by folder and filename rather than by ID3 tag content, and aren't any more friendly than they were on the D2 last year. Files stored on SD cards are accessed via context menus and aren't rolled into any kind of master list like they are on, say, the Creative Zen. But files can be copied to and from cards very easily, which may, perhaps, appeal to photographers.
The other unique feature is the O2's open source application system. True, only a little calculator and a Windows Paint-esque app came bundled (no-one's written any others for us to use yet), but the O2 does at least allow any programmer to use Cowon's software development kit to develop native applications, and Cowon thinks they will.