Price – 16GB: £219.00 32GB: £259.00
~ An Elliot Holmes Review ~
• The Cowon Z2 features a 1GHz ARM CORTEX-A8 CPU for speedy operating and app handling.
• The player runs on Android (Version 2.3.5 on our demo model) so you can install apps either through ‘side-loading’ or by installing free Android apps with the Android Marketplace third-party app.
• Since this is a Cowon player you can expect the same exceptional sound as the rest of their range.
• Google certification would be lovely so you can gain direct access to the full Android Marketplace but this seems pretty hard to obtain. Hopefully this will happen in the future.
• Due to the glossy plastic front you will have to deal with some smudges and fingerprints so you might want to stock up on microfiber cloths to combat this.
• While the screen is clear and well sized you do need to be a bit firmer with your presses, for example sliding to different home screens, to make it respond.
Cowon is a name which has long been synonymous with high quality sound and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to have a go on one of their range you’ll know exactly where this reputation comes from. However, in today’s market being the best sounding isn’t always going to guarantee that people will buy your products simply due to the sheer level of competition.
If you wanted to test this theory all you need to do is type ‘MP3 player’ in to a search engine and you’ll be greeted with row upon row of players which all claim to be the ultimate choice (in my search using Bing Shopping 8,793 results were returned and there were 2,780,000 in Google Shopping). Plus there’s always Apple kicking around who are quite often the first port of call for newcomers to the world of MP3 Players because of their mastery of advertising (and because they make some good products I suppose).
To tackle this Cowon joined the current trend of smooshing an MP3 player with a mobile phone and released the Cowon D3 which used the Android mobile phone operating system. The D3 was alright as a first attempt at getting in on some Android action but was slightly marred by a slow processor and no access to Android Marketplace. Thankfully they have not made the same mistakes with the Z2.
Design and Under the Bonnet
The best way to describe the looks of the Cowon Z2 is to imagine that the Cowon J3 has had a baby with the Nokia Lumia 800 as the two look very similar – to my eyes anyway – except for the fact that the Z2 has sharp edges while the Lumia is rounded.
Cowon dub this style ‘Floating Design’ because when the player is laying flat on a surface it looks like it’s…well…floating but there’s more to the design than meets the eye (just like the Transformers). They sum this up best with the script on the back of the player which says “…the straight lines and dynamic curves of [the] Z2 are slim yet provide an easy grip to its users”. Now if you’re forever dropping your player or phone like me this does come in very handy, as you can grip it better, and makes the player pretty easy to use one handed.
The Cowon Z2 is predominantly a capacitive touch-screen based device and while it doesn’t have a fancy retina or AMOLED display the screen is well sized and the picture is crisp. The screen is also pretty responsive to touches and presses. There’s also some handy solid buttons on the right hand side of the player which control volume and tracks. Moreover, there’s the normal touch sensitive list, home and back buttons which you’ve no doubt seen before on Android based phones.
Finally, tucked away at the bottom of the player beneath a plastic flap, which doubles as a stand for when you fancy watching a video, there’s a mini USB port, Micro SD expansion slot and mini HDMI out. All very handy – especially the mini USB port since the other recent Cowon models have featured a proprietary Samsung USB connection.
Earlier I mentioned that the Cowon D3 was quite badly let down by the slow processor (seriously the poor thing could barely handle Angry Birds) well this certainly isn’t the case with the Z2 thanks to the 1GHz ARM CORTEX-A8 CPU which Cowon have included. The benefits of the faster processor is immediately apparent as during my fiddling with the Z2 I’ve not encountered any pauses or crashes and every app I’ve tried runs smoothly and without jitters or graphic glitches.
Usability and Features
Some people have mentioned before that they find Cowon players difficult to navigate at first and with some of their quirkier players, such as the Cowon C2 with its strange menu layout, I can certainly see why this might be; although I’ve usually found that just having a good old play will soon remedy this. Honestly I can’t see anyone saying anything similar about the Cowon Z2 and really it couldn’t get much easier.
The main reason why I doubt anyone would struggle to navigate the Z2 is because of the Android operating system. This makes using the Z2 simple and everything feels very familiar to first time users and old hands alike. For example, clicking the apps button on the bottom right of the screen will load the full menu and allow you to select music, or videos, internet and so on. You can also drop apps from this menu on to one of the ‘home’ screens to make getting around a bit quicker.
There is also a built-in G Sensor so the player knows when you’re holding it landscape or portrait and will flip the image around as necessary. This comes in more handy when browsing the internet as opposed to anything else as quite often browsing while holding the player sideways won’t squash websites down quite so much and makes reading text online a bit easier.
I’m not going to talk too much about the navigation as it’s basically the same as navigating an Android phone and there’s far more interesting things to talk about, like access to Android Marketplace.
Cowon aren’t fully Google Certified so like the Cowon D3 there isn’t any ‘native’ access to the Marketplace (interestingly I found out recently that it took Sony over a year to become fully Google Certified so it seems to be quite a long winded process) unfortunately. However, all is not lost and Cowon have come up with a workaround so you can still access the free Android apps, such as Facebook and Gmail, by installing an app they’ve created. This is a huge plus point as it means you won’t have to browse for .APK files on the interwebs and then side load them on the device.
Furthermore, if you’re willing to risk voiding you warranty (Cowon haven’t yet confirmed whether this will affect the warranty but it’s likely) there is a hack to ‘root’ the player and receive full Marketplace access; which was uncovered recently by www.anythingbutipod.com. However, this is quite a laborious process and involves downloading and using various different pieces of software, copying data across and generally fiddling with the player and your PC. In this case I’d be tempted to say that it might be better to just use what Cowon provide and only risk this method if you have a burning desire to tinker with the Z2 or if you have to use paid-for apps.
If you wanted to check out the process then you can read the original article at the following link: http://anythingbutipod.com/2012/02/got-root-the-cowon-z2-already-does/
Sound and Picture
With all this Android sorcery it can be easy to forget that the Cowon Z2 is, at it’s heart, a portable media player – and one which works very well indeed.
Sound-wise the Z2 delivers what we’ve come to expect from Cowon at this point meaning that music sounds great and as the player supports a fair few lossless formats you really can squeeze some impressive quality out of the Z2. Moreover, as the player uses a simple drag and drop method for copying tracks across you don’t have to worry about struggling with software to set the player up. This drag and drop method also appears to copy over album art and track information provided you have everything saved and embedded in the file.
While playing back music you’re given quite a few option to tweak the sound as Cowon include 48 presets and allow users to create four of their own. So if you don’t like the sound signatures which Cowon have created you can generate one of your own simply by selecting a user EQ and using the graphic equaliser to change the frequencies around. This can come in very handy if you listen to a particular genre of music as you can create a general user EQ and easily apply this to all of your tracks; although it has to be said that the bundled presets to a tremendous job across the board too.
Cowon also bundle in the latest version of JetEffect (version 5.0) and while most features remain unchanged there are some new modes for increasing bass and generally improving the playback quality. You might want to have a fiddle about with these settings but in most cases the base sound, or a user defined EQ, will probably do just fine.
The only negative thing I have to say about the sound of the Cowon Z2 is that it doesn’t seem to have quite as much output as some of their other range. I suspect that this is due to fact that the EU volume limit is applied by default whereas their other players, like the J3 and X7, only apply this after you select an EU country when first turning the player on. However, there was still plenty of volume and if you’re not using premium earphones the Z2 should drive them well. If you do have some high quality earphones though you might need to consider a portable headphone amp down the line to really make the most of your set-up.
Videos can be copied to the Cowon Z2 in the same way and again the player supports a decent range of formats. The player handles video well and has a clear picture on the screen and while the size of the screen might mean the player doesn’t lend itself to three hour long epics it’s fine for TV episodes or home movies (you can of course watch a three hour epic but you might get a bit of eye-strain after a while just as you would with screens of this size).
The Cowon Z2 also handles pictures well so you can copy a load across and enjoy them or show to friends at your leisure. There’s also quite a few free digital photo frame apps available so used in conjunction with the built-in stand you can quickly turn the player into a portable photo frame.
We’ve filmed a short review of the Cowon Z2 so if you want to see it in action head on over to our Youtube channel
Cowon players have been known for their near-unrivalled sound quality for a number of years now but in today’s ever changing market that isn’t always enough. With the inclusion of the Android operating system, internet browsing and an HDMI output, along with that epic sound, it’s clear that Cowon are aiming to keep up with the features users want and not be left at the back of the pack.
The Cowon Z2 player is a must if you’re on the lookout for a premium sounding player with a generous smattering of other handy features.
Right, I’m off to play Angry Birds while listening to phat beats before they take the Z2 away from me.