If you've been waiting for a true alternative to the Francetastic Archos 605 WiFi, your wait is over. Cowon's new Q5W is a hard disk-boasting, Wi-Fi-capable, touchscreen-rocking, Windows-powered, codec-loving metallic behemoth. But with prices starting at a whopping £400, this South Korean media player is sending out a clear message: if you want everything, be prepared to sell limbs to afford it.
The player comes in 40GB and 60GB capacities, starting at around £400 -- far short of the Archos 605's 160GB at around £270. So how do the Koreans intend to dominate the French in the media player world? A number of ways, actually.
The cold metal case, the weight of a Sony PSP and the ruggedness of a man who's recently been rescued after a year in Madagascar, all combine to give the Q5W an instantly 'I mean business' feel. It's a beautiful player and in the hands it feels immediately professional. Unlike the iPod touch that feels almost delicate as a result of its glass front and shiny casing, the Q5 feels like it'd withstand a plane crash, though we're not keen to test that theory.
A soft glossy film gives the touchscreen some protection, unlike the touch's glass screen that only protects the player from looking old-fashioned. There's a slot for one of the two styli supplied, a grille covering the internal speakers, physical volume controls and a curious pop-out telescopic aerial, presumably for Wi-Fi and FM reception. But what we love most of all is the standard mini USB socket for transferring data.
Cowon's previous players have impressed us with their broad codec support but the Q5W goes to new extremes. Just look at this list of supported multimedia formats: Divx, Xvid, ASF, WMV, MPEG-4, OGM, MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, FLAC, MusePack, APE, JPG, BMP, PNG and raw. There's one missing, though: H.264 -- something the Archos 605 doesn't lack, although it'll cost you about a tenner as it's not supported out-of-the-box.
Video can be outputted to TV with an included composite/component hybrid cable. You can load up photos for full-screen slideshows if you want, too. Naturally there are heaps of options for playing back music, including playlists and multi-band equalisers. Keep your folders sorted, mind, as the Q5W doesn't sort music libraries based on ID3 tag info.
Because the Q5W runs on Windows CE, you've got access to a rudimentary OS. You can open and edit Microsoft Word documents, play Solitaire, copy files to and from USB drives via the built-in USB socket -- though it's a blinking slow one -- and move files around folders. But since it's a Wi-Fi-enabled device, you can browse the Web and use MSN Messenger. Sadly, the browser is old and many pages we loaded looked rubbish.
It's important to bear in mind that this isn't a UMPC and you're not going to get your Skype, Yahoo! IM or BitTorrent client working on here easily -- it's an excessively-capable media player, not a Web browser and media portal like the iPod touch or the Archos 605 WiFi.
With so many video formats supported, you're going to have an absolute blast with the Q5W -- the screen is second to none, meaning image quality's terrific, video playback is smooth and the screen actually has some awesome viewing angles. Audio quality is equally superb and outputting a high-quality video to a TV gives amazing performance. If only there was a 160GB hard disk option available we'd be absolutely over the moon.
Alas, while its feature set impresses to new and unrivalled levels, its ease-of-use does not. Navigation is all touch-based, true, but it requires you use tiny buttons split into two thin columns, each sitting to the far left and far right of the screen, and browsing can be sluggish. Although you do get used to where frequently used controls reside, it does require some patience and is far from intuitive. This gives the Q5W even more of a professional, not-for-the-kids touch.
We do wish there was a kick stand or something around the back, though. This would make propping the player up on a plane's tray table less annoying. And this brings us to an important issue: this thing gets very hot. Actually, it gets a little too hot with prolonged use, and that metal case doesn't help, making us further wish there was a kick stand.
Battery life is rated at 13 hours for audio, seven for video. We'll be confirming or denying this as soon as the Q5W finishes its exhaustive tests. Check back soon for the results.
Despite its complicated and slightly sluggish menus, Cowon's Q5W should be seen as the Holy Grail of media players, or more specifically video players. Its unprecedented compatibility with file formats, terrific performance, many levels of customisation and superb TV-out results, make this must-see choice for anyone who demands everything for their video. The only issue is cost, and as functionality not relating to media playback is forgettable -- not to mention the small hard drive capacities -- we don't feel the high price is justified. Though if you can afford it, you will be blissfully happy.
If Web browsing is your main need, with video playback to boot, look for the Archos 605 WiFi -- even with a 160GB it's still cheaper. If you're after something slick and lightweight for full-screen video and Web browsing, look for the iPod touch -- it's significantly less expensive and painfully simple to use.
But if you're a video obsessive, neither of these alternatives come close to the Q5W, meaning if you want everything from your video-centric lifestyle, coughing up for this Korean behemoth might actually be your best bet.
Available from AdvancedMP3Players.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday