These days, many people use a smartphone as their main music player. However, back when you were lucky if your phone had a colour screen, dedicated players like the Cowon X9 were big business. Now Cowon has to aim squarely at the audio enthusiast crowd to stay afloat. Consequently, sound quality is great but the X9 does feel a little expensive, and dated in parts.
Cowon X9 Design
Cowon's players are often on the chunky side. The Cowon A5 was positively gargantuan, but thankfully the latest Cowon X9 PMP has slimmed down a little from that blueprint. It's around as thick as an iPod Classic, and a little larger thanks to the 4.3-inch screen.
However, like the A5, the Cowon X9 still feels ungainly as - unlike the elder statesman iPod - this is a solid state memory gadget rather than a hard drive player. The 16GB (32GB also available) of internal memory here needn't take up more space than a thumbnail, so there's no real excuse for the chunk factor. Thanks to the generous bezel, it's almost as wide as a Samsung Galaxy S3 too, which will be too large for smaller hands to hold comfortably.
Aside from the dimensions, the Cowon X9 player is reasonably attractive-looking. Its body is all-plastic, but the white of the front and edges combined with the muted grey of the rear provide a relaxed look that has a clear sense of style. Cowon says it "expresses refinement and comfortability", which is not only over-egging it a bit, but actually doesn't make sense. However, its intentions aren't too far off the results.
Cowon X9 Features
The Cowon X9 brings a feature or two you won't find in every touchscreen-operated media player. It has physical playback buttons on the left edge, controlling which track plays, and acting as play/pause controls. Unfortunately, Cowon didn't think to include a hold switch on the body, making accidental presses of these buttons a bit too easy.
Alongside these buttons is a plastic flap that hides the microSD memory card slot and the proprietary charge connector, which looks uncannily like a miniHDMI slot. It's not one, however, and while a composite video output cable is available, it doesn't come with the player.
The Cowon X9 connectivity options are surprisingly poor, all told. There's no Bluetooth, ruling-out being able to use wireless headphones, no Wi-Fi and no GPS. The one extra hardware bit is a G-sensor, which can tell the angle the device is being held at. But as it's only useful in the one pre-installed game, we'd have rather had almost anything else.
Like an iPod touch, the Cowon X9 has an inbuilt speaker on the rear, letting you play music without headphones. However, it is poor. It distorts way before reaching top volume and offers crude sound quality. Hardware-wise, the Cowon X9 is a disappointment. For a device as expensive and large as this, it's quite feature-poor.
Cowon X9 Battery Life
The Cowon X9 does win back some points with its impressive-sounding 110-hour battery, however. It's non-removable and we don't know its actual mAh capacity figure, but it will offer greater stamina than something like an iPod Classic.
However, even this strong point is not without its weaknesses. Power management is not great, and after leaving the player sitting dormant for a few days, the battery had run itself down. It doesn't seem to be as clever as a 2012 media player should be.
Cowon X9 Software and Screen
Unlike the Android-powered A5, the Cowon X9 uses a Cowon-developed interface that lays-out the player's key features into two pages of panels. Although mostly grey and white rather than a dazzling explosion of colour, it looks stylish enough and is easy to use.
It's here that you'll find the few extra non-hardware features on offer in the Cowon X9. There's an FM radio, a voice recorder (there's an inbuilt microphone), a document reader, stopwatch, calendar and an extremely basic casual game called Hunter. This is certainly no iPod touch or Android powered Samsung Galaxy S Wi-Fi 4.2 device in terms of apps and games.
Flicking through the interface and your music library is hampered by the type of touchscreen used. Most people are used to fingering capacitive touchscreens, but the Cowon X9 uses a resistive screen, which was common in the dark ages of smartphone infancy. As it senses direct pressure, a firm prod is needed to get the player to respond, making using the thing feel sluggish and clumsy.
The interface's chances of making a good impression are diminished by the low-quality screen too. At 4.3-inches across, it's fairly big, but its resolution is extremely low at 272 x 480 pixels. Held at arm's length you can still see the pixels. To put it into some form of context, the pixel density of the Cowon X9 is 128dpi. The pixel density of the 2011 iPod touch, 329dpi.