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In the world of MP3 players, Cowon is a bit like the England rugby team. It keeps producing products that might be a bit unfashionable, but that you just can't ignore. And though everyone seems to be doing their darnedest to ignore their progress (when was the last time you saw a Cowon product at retail anywhere outside Tottenham Court Road?) its products just seem to keep winning ugly.
So when it takes a stab at the premium portable media player market, it's time to sit up and take notice. To be fair, the A2 (this is the 30GB variant) has been around for some time now, but this is the first time we've seen the player here at TrustedReviews and, with Archos seemingly running away with things with its Wi-Fi enabled range of miniature movie marvels, we thought we'd take a closer look at what the competition has to offer.
As with all Cowon products, the A2 is an extremely well-engineered product. It's not particularly attractive in today's iPod-obsessed world, with its pearl-white and gun-metal grey plastics, but it has a heft to it and rigidity that suggests longevity in a way the Archos 605 doesn't.
The joystick control and the four buttons arranged down the right hand edge of the screen feel solid too, and even the plastic flap covering the connections on the left hand side feels like it'll last, though this is just as well as it covers the frequently-used USB socket.
And there are other areas where the A2 outdoes the competition as well. Unlike Apple or Archos players, for instance, this player comes with everything you need in the box. There's no need to buy extra cables in order to take advantage of its ability to record and output video. There's a USB stub cable for attaching your digital camera so you can copy photos off your digital camera and music files from a USB stick or flash-based player. You get a line-in cable and a decent leather case too - a nice touch.
It also has an FM tuner where the Archos doesn't, and support for video and audio formats is superior to much of the opposition off the peg too. Not only are MP3 and WMA supported, but also OGG, the excellent lossless codec FLAC and Musepack as well - an emerging lossy codec enhanced for audio quality over file size. For video, the list is almost as impressive with support for AVI, ASF and WMV file types, which means it'll play DivX and XviD movies without conversion, MPEG-4, WMV 9, and MPEG-1 files. Disappointingly there's no MPEG-2 or H.264 support, however.