Hardware,  Open Source

Me and My Cowon iAudio D2

So I’ve never really owned an mp3 player before, I had always used a SD card and my smartphone. However, with my Openmoko Freerunner being unusable as a media player*, I decided to go and buy a real mp3 player. I wanted a small mp3 player with video capability, decent capacity, long battery life, easy to sync with Linux, did not say ‘iPod’ anywhere on it, and excellent sound quality. Luckily, I found all of these things (for perhaps a bit of premium) in the Cowon iAudio D2. It got decent reviews everywhere I looked, and so I decided to drop $200 USD to buy the 16gb model. Here’s my impressions from using it for a week.

  • Hardware
    I went with the 16gb model, so it has plenty of space. There’s also a SD card slot if I find that I need more room at some point. The memory is flash, so I’m hoping this little device lasts longer than a hard disk player. The device feels much like a small camera, and it easily slides into the front pocket of my jeans. It easily snuggles into the palm of your hand. It is about the width of a credit card, and an inch shorter than a credit card’s height. Its small size doesn’t affect the video quality though, it has a very big screen for an mp3 player that takes up most of the face of the player. I’m pretty happy with the form factor and weight. The battery life on this thing is incredible. it can run forever, the manufacturer estimates 52 hour battery life, and that seems about right.
  • Usability
    The D2 uses a touch screen interface on a 2.5 inch (63.5mm) screen, but it works out quite well.  They gave me a little stupid stylus on an elastic tether for dealing with the touch screen, I haven’t had to use it yet. My fingers seem to navigate everything pretty easily. There are 3 hardware buttons you can assign to basic media functions, or you can use the touch screen. When browsing your library, there is a ‘gliding scroll’ (slide your finger up, and the list will glide upwards) that is mildly intuitive, it might take me a bit more time before I learn to love that navigation style. For the first few days, I used the default factory skin, and had to force myself to like it. Once I found out that changing the skin was a possibility, I honestly loved how much better it made the mp3 player. Using skins on this thing is a must. The default skin is perfectly usable, but its suboptimal for on-the-go usage. The most concise collection of finished skins I found is at iaudiophile.net so check it out, and pick a skin that works for you. There’s a very good chance you’ll like it better than what you get out of the box! Unfortunately, in order to use the skins, I had to change the firmware version, but even a small increase in usability is worth it to me, seeing how much time I’ll be spending with this device. 😀
  • Audio
    This is what’s really important about an mp3 player right? 😀 I have to say that the D2 sounds great. I’m using a pair of Razor Protone m250 earclips instead of the included headphones and the sound is superb. Headphones aside, the Cowon has great software features for optimizing sound quality of your music. It has a 5 band equalizer! That made me really happy. 😀 It also has other advanced options concerning bass, stereo effects, and even the ability to speed up playback. I couldn’t realistically ask for better audio quality from this thing, I’m very pleased with the quality of the audio from this device.
  • Radio
    This thing has a no frills FM radio thats ok enough to use. I figured out that the D2 uses the headphone wires as the radio antenna, so me, being the good electrical engineer I am, kinked up the cord for maximum reception. :-D. It works great now, but that little tip is critical in finding good reception. It can save up to 24 audio presets, although the autoscan function kinda sucks, so you might have to manually add your favorite station if its a bit weaker than other stations. It can also record radio in WAV (boo) format, but I don’t really intend on using the radio record much, tagging files with ID3 tags and transcoding are a large annoyances in my life. The radio is usable, but its not the ultimate FM radio experience. 😛
  • Video
    I’m gonna be honest, I’ve only watched the sample video on this device yet, but that looks pretty good…
  • Linux Friendliness
    This thing gets along with Linux quite nicely. I keep my mp3’s on a machine running Arch Linux, so I had to screw around with HAL to get things running automatically, but I’d be very willing to bet that Ubuntu and like distro’s could handle this thing right out of the box. When you plug it into the miniUSB cable, the kernel found it right away, and added a node in /dev for me. I was able to mount it with a no frills mount command, and transfer files over to it no problem. I set up Amarok to help me with this task, and after a bit of fiddling, got it running nicely. No worrying about special drivers, and minimal hassles! Yay. 😀
  • Annoyances
    No device is without its annoyances, and the D2 is no exception. My biggest annoyances are with the default skin, something that I’ve since “fixed”. With the default skin, its tough to read the name of the songs when you’re skipping around your playlists, or just rocking out on shuffle. The font is an annoying 1 pixel wide font, and a translucent button appears over the song name when you hit ‘next’. If the font was 2 or 3 pixels wide, and the translucent button was moved down about 15 pixels, this could be fixed. I feel that there is a lot of wasted screen space in the default skin that could have been used to increase on-the-go visibility. Finally, browsing the music library can be a bit of a hassle, I’m hoping that as I use it more, I’ll get used to the quirks of the browsing interface. Neither of these are huge issues in my book though.

All in all, this is an outstanding, full-featured, high quality device. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to get an mp3 player.

* Don’t take that as a blast on Openmoko. I simply haven’t gotten any media player to work at an acceptable level on my phone 🙂


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