Cowon has pre-installed 21 ‘apps’ onto the Z2, but many of these are actually web shortcuts directing you to the browser. The reason for this is the Z2 has no access to the Google Play store, though it will accept sideloaded apps and there are numerous online guides that will help you to hack Play onto it. The overall experience may not quite measure up to Android 4.1’s Project Butter or iOS, but for long-time Cowon buyers it will be a revelation.
Of course long time Cowon buyers will tell you they don’t care about any aspect of this review up to now because all that matters is audio performance. If this sounds like you then hold no fears, despite the move to Android, the Z2 sounds as good as – if not better than – any Cowon MP3 player or PMP to date.
In raw figures Cowon claims the Z2 delivers a typical 20Hz to 20,000Hz frequency range, a maximum sound output via headphones rated at 29mW 29mW and 95dB signal-to-noise ratio. In addition it comes with JetEffect 5, the latest version of Cowon’s proprietary sound enhancement technology. Still based on BBE algorithms it enhances spatial effects, offers nine types of reverb and a whopping 48 sound presets. Interestingly while this sounds complex it is extremely easy to use and though a flat EQ is often the weapon of choice for purists we found they offered fast and simple ways to bolster music genres regardless of whether you were using cheap or inexpensive ear/headphones or outputting it to a car stereo or home system.
Even without JetEffect 5, however, the Cowon Z2 sounds superb. Highs, lows and mids are all clear and distinct, there is plenty of drive and even tracks of a lower bitrate receive a spring clean when processed through the Z2. Of course high bitrate content and top notch listening equipment will bring out the best, but whereas they are often used to counteract the poor processing on your average smartphone here they bring pure enjoyment. Cowon does supply earphones with the Z2, but they are of cheap construction and while there’s reasonable bass response they distort at higher volumes and you’d be well advised to invest in something of higher quality. After all why else would you own a Cowon?
Watching video, the results aren’t quite as stellar. Cowon has opted to include the ARM Neo 1080p decoding chip so Full HD video has silky smooth playback, but the 3.7in screen itself (while AMOLED with reasonably high 800 x 480 native resolution) is a bit of a disappointment. Viewing angles are wide and colour reproduction is reasonably accurate, but it is dull and feels lifeless and certainly not on the level of an Apple Retina Display or Samsung Galaxy S3.