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Cowon iAudio S9
Let's face it, Cowon's timing could have been better. Here the company has a credible rival to the iPod touch and the sort of media player that audiophiles openly salivate over, but it only gets it into the UK about a week before Christmas. Still, if your loved one didn't pick one up as a last minute present, then this might be a good time to dig out any Christmas present money and buy a little something for yourself. This isn't the ultimate PMP, but if you're more swayed by audio playback quality than anything else, it's certainly one you ought to look at.
And take a good look at it, because the physical design is a thing of beauty. In the US they're calling this one the Curve, and a quick glance at the sweeping lines of the back should be enough to tell you why. The S9 is smaller and lighter than you might expect, being only 2.2in wide and 4.17in high and weighing in at less than 80g, all of which makes it slightly more pocket friendly than the iPod Touch. Despite this, its primarily metallic casing gives it a really durable feel. You'll want a case for the S9 just to protect its screen, but if you didn't get one it would still take care of itself.
The screen itself is easily the S9's most notable feature, with external controls restricted to a dual function power/hold switch at the bottom, fast forward/rewind and volume rockers at the top and a slightly weird grey pause/play control between them. Even the USB connection is squirreled away, residing under a pull-out plastic flap next to the power/hold switch. If you want sleek, stripped-back and stylish, it doesn't get much more so than this, making this one of the most desirable PMPs to emerge from anywhere outside of Cupertino.
The S9 looks great when lying inert, but even better once you switch the power on. The 3.3in, 16:9 format AMOLED screen is a beauty. The resolution - 480 x 272 - is the same as that of the PSP, and with support for up to 16 million colours it doesn't suffer from a restricted palette, either. Whether you're looking at snaps in the photo viewer or watching Xvid or WMV movies, the image is bright, crisp and full of detail, and the size hits a fine compromise between keeping the device small and giving you something you can actually watch for a reasonable length of time.