Cowon has survived through the rise of the iPod, iPhone and Android devices thanks to its focus on sound quality – what the manufacturer is now primarily known for among the audio nut crowd. However, it hasn’t entirely ignored the additional lures offered by its smartphone-OS rivals.
The Cowon J3 lets you pick from three different interface types. One is a simple grid menu of icons, the second is an iPod-style scrolling menu and the third offers a series of home screens that you can customise with shortcuts and widgets.
The widget library includes an alarm, a couple of clocks, a battery indicator, memo pad and calendar – there are 11 in total. On top of this are 15 shortcuts to player functions, a figure inflated by the inclusion of a game, calculator, stopwatch, notepad and comic reader.
These additional features feel like superfluous gimmicks, and largely are when there’s no way to expand your app library. It doesn’t help that the included apps are very basic – much worse than the additional organiser and gaming functionality included in an iPod Classic, which tend to get ignored. However, those without a smartphone already glued to their hips may find some of these flimsy add-ons useful.
Navigation of your music library isn’t entirely intuitive, and the touchscreen navigation buttons can leave you running around in circles, but as there are only a couple of layers to the player’s OS it won’t take too long to conquer this learning curve. Even when you are confused and a tad frustrated by the oddities of the J3’s approach to a media player interface, you can at least be confused and frustrated at speed – the capacitive touchscreen is highly responsive and there’s no significant lag when scrolling through menus. The capacitive screen supports multi-touch too, enabling the pinch-to-zoom feature when looking at photos.
Most users may end up ignoring the built-in apps of the Cowon J3, but its audio recording capabilities deserve more attention. Aside from recording the FM radio signal, you can also harvest sound from the microphone that sits on the device’s back, or using a line-in cable. Like the video-out cable, this is an optional extra, unfortunately.
The Recorder app offers control over the quality of recordings, with six settings spanning between 32kbps and 256kbps, and is operated with two large buttons. It’s much simpler than navigating around the music library, and while it’s a niche feature it’s one we thoroughly approve of.