Gadgets like the Cowon A5 are an endangered species. Calling itself a PMP, or portable media player, it's the sort of device that was popular a half-decade ago - since whittled away into obscurity by big-screen phones. Can this 4.8in screen portable bring the portable video and audio player back to the spotlight?
One of the Cowon A5's top claims for up-to-date-ness is that it runs Android, Google's smartphone and tablet operating system. It opens up the handheld to all sorts of fun functionality, but also serves to emphasise quite how tubby a device this is.
The Cowon A5 has a large 4.8in screen, but now that slim top-end smartphones have similar-sized screens, we can't just forget the girth in view of screen size. At 15mm thick, and with a generous screen bezel and curvaceous body, we found the PMP a little too large to fit comfortably into pockets. Giant phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 get by on portability by being so slim, but with sat-nav-like dimensions, the A5 doesn’t.
Another possible excuse for a big 'ole booty is the use of a hard drive. We forgave last year's Cowon X7's tubby frame because it offered 120GB or 160GB of internal storage - way more than any popular solid state MP3 player. However, once again the Cowon A5 fails to make up a good excuse. It uses 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, as offered by the ultra-slim iPod touch.
A voluptuous body makes the Cowon A5 pretty comfortable to hold, but we have no idea why the device is quite as big as it is. It makes the A5 feel dated, and dramatically reduces the convenience factor. If it's pocket-bound, it's going to take up a whole pocket.
Build quality is good - the A5 is made of white plastic - but doesn't have the high-end luxury feel of metal bodied-slim players. Cowon writes on the player's back that it is "inspired by pottery. Without the unnecessary bells and whistles, the motif of the design is simple and innocent." Fair enough, Cowon, but we found it more "quaint and confusing" given quite how far off current design trends it is.
And for a device that claims to leave out "bells and whistles", the Cowon A5 provides very good on-body connectivity. On its left edge, when held in landscape, there's a white plastic flap that hides the microUSB charge/data socket, a microSD slot and HDMI video output.
Alongside it is the 3.5mm headphone jack. Not only does this comprise everything you need, its connectivity is well-done too. The slap cover ensures the sockets don't ruin the A5's ergonomics and the headphone jack is placed sensibly enough not to become a nuisance whether the PMP is held upright or on its side.
The Cowon A5's design begs to be held in landscape orientation, though, with four touch sensitive Google navigation buttons subtly laid-out in bottom part of the screen bezel. Design-wise they blend-in well, but we found that they're a bit buggy. They occasionally fire off (there's a vibrate function used as standard when they're pressed) on their own, or flat-out refuse to respond until the A5 is reset.
This became the most frustrating factor of our time with the Cowon. It may be fixed in a firmware update, but it's frequently infuriating as-is - especially as the worst offender, the back button, is the most commonly used of the lot.
Other on-body features include the internal speaker on its bottom and the volume rocker and power button up top. For a device this size, we were disappointed to hear that the speaker isn't as good as that of an iPhone, lacking warmth and body. Sound is output in mono too.