Audiophiles love Cowon. The South Korean multinational has developed an unrivalled reputation for the sound quality of its portable devices, but it has gained an equal number of detractors for their cost and utilitarian design. The Z2 is the product Cowon hopes can finally please everyone…
Out the box this perception isn't immediately challenged. The angular Cowon Z2 is far from the most beautiful PMP we've seen and at 116.5 x 62.8 x 11.8mm and 116g it isn't the most compact either. In hand things get a little better. The rubberised, lightly textured back provides just enough grip to stop it slipping from hand and feels durable enough to withstand bumps and scuffs. The front is less impressive with a fascia that is a fingerprint magnet and touch sensitive menu, home and back buttons which are not backlit making control in low light more difficult than it should be.
Cowon does rather better with the rest of the Z2. On the right side volume controls are supported by dedicated play/pause and skip/search buttons which give the first hint of the Cowon Z2's multimedia-centric nature. On top is a power/standby button and at the bottom is a 3.5mm headphone jack with microUSB, (64GB compatible) microSD and mini HDMI ports hidden under a flap. A nice touch is this seemingly extraneous flap doubles up as a kickstand, which holds the Z2 in place when watching video.
To load content onto the Z2 simply switch it into 'USB mass storage' mode, connect it to a PC and drag and drop content. As the Z2 is natively formatted in NTFS Mac users will have a harder time, but conversion software such as Paragon NTFS for Mac provides a simple workaround.
Under the hood things begin to look more phone than PMP. The Cowon Z2 is equipped with a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU, 512MB RAM and a choice of 16GB or 32GB of internal memory, which can be augmented by the aforementioned microSD slot. On top of this you'll find Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and an accelerometer.
These specs and the facia's buttons give away the Z2's primary selling point: it is equipped with Android. Aside from the ill-fated, underpowered D3, Cowon has largely stuck to its own proprietary OS until now so the move to Google's platform represents a renewed (and possibly forced) venture to cram more functionality into its flagship players. To keep things slick Cowon has conservatively opted for Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread and, while it is dated, everything whizzes along and Cowon has spruced things up with its tasteful 'Plenue' skin.