We described the predecessor to the iAudio 9 - the inspiringly named iAudio 7 - as being like your funny uncle. A bit quirky, entirely likeable, but you wouldn't really want to be seen in public with him, especially not with your friends. The iAudio 9 is still similar in many respects, but now that uncle has put on a suit, dropped the corny jokes and could probably just about make it through dinner without telling your partner about that incident with the jelly and a trampoline on your 12th birthday you swore should never be mentioned again. In short, it's a definite improvement.
The iAudio 9's dimensions of 43mm x 95mm x 8.6mm and 40g weight leave it fated to comparison to Apple's iPod nano. In figures the iAudio 9 is slightly larger and heavier, but in the hand or pocket the difference is literally unnoticeable. However, with an 8GB iAudio 9 costing £99 and a 16GB model priced at £120, the Cowon player is notably cheaper than equivalent capacity iPod nanos - and these numbers do matter.
The overall design is an unsurprising evolution from the iAudio 7. The matt black finish verges on bland, but I quite like its functional look and I imagine the other colours will look similarly tasteful. For certain, this player feels more 'grown up' than an iPod nano; neither form nor function have taken priority here and it just works.
The player's top half of the front is filled by a 2in, 240 x 320 pixel display, while the bottom half is a capacitive sensor san the indentations of the previous model. The controls are context sensitive, but with a little common sense it's easy to guess what each will do in a given screen. When navigating menus, for example, it’s pretty obvious that a swipe of the navigation bar will scroll up or down while on the now playing screen the same action will pilot through the current track.
Because of the sheer number of options available on the iAudio 9 some sub menus are buried a little. To help, you can press and hold controls to access shortcuts. In the now playing screen, for example, pressing and holding play/pause gives quick access to the equaliser and playbacks settings (repeat options, shuffle and speed).
This capacitive control surface is backed up by a volume rocker on the left edge, plus a menu button, and combined hold and power two-way switch on the right. Sliding this down and holding it turns the player on or off, a quick flick down turns the display and touch-sensitive controls on or off, and locking the slider up puts the controls on hold.
Usefully the iAudio 9 gives you a couple of options as to how restrictive that hold mode is. Either it can disable all controls, both physical and touch-sensitive, or it can disable everything except the left rocker-button and the menu button - the former then working either as a forwards/back or volume control and the latter becoming a play/pause control instead.