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Cowon iAudio S9 - Cowon iAudio S9
Video motion is fluid and I could happily watch an episode of Lost or 24 on the S9 - particularly as the sound is fantastic - and I might even be able to stretch to a movie. I could also say the same about the iPod touch, but not about many other PMPs that I've seen recently. The one disappointment is that it doesn't seem to work with downloaded iPlayer WMV files, refusing programmes that were subsequently accepted by the Samsung YP-Q1 sitting by my desk.
Cowon's touchscreen-driven, flash-based GUI also helps maintain the style. There's nothing as brilliant as multi-touch, but clear icons take you from the main screen to the major functions and it's easy to navigate between video or audio tracks and change the myriad available settings. You can browse by ID tags or folders, rapidly add tracks as you listen to a list of favourites, set bookmarks within particular tracks and flick between related tracks using a handy pop-out quicklist.
The S9's, erm, homage to CoverFlow isn't quite as elegant or precise as Apple's - an accelerometer in the unit means that the S9's screen switches to landscape format when you rotate it through 90 degrees, but that switch it rather sluggish and there's a huge lag between touching the screen and anything happening. However, it looks the part, and the zoom slider, which can also enlarge text in list-style views, works well. All in all, it's a slick interface that gives the S9 exactly the right cutting-edge feel, and my only real grumbles would be that a) some of the icons aren't all that intuitive and b) it's not initially that easy to work out how to get back from the currently playing track to the list of albums in the library without going to the home screen and the browser first. Eventually I worked out I could do it by flicking between views using an icon in the top-left of the screen.
The S9 certainly packs in more features than your average pocket-sized PMP. On top of video and music playback we get a photo viewer, voice recorder, FM radio, Flash lite player, text viewer and, under the banner of utilities, a simple calculator. The FM radio is particularly good, with a cool dial-based tuning control and easily configurable presets you can flick through using the fast forward and rewind buttons. What's more, you can record directly from the radio to 64K up to 256K MP3 files. And that's not all. The S9 supports A2DP Bluetooth headphones out of the box and will - with optional cables - record from a line-in or output stereo audio and composite video to a TV. Just be warned that the cables may be tricky to get hold of here in the UK.
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