The Cowon A5’s main hardware feature is its 4.8in screen. Although it’s the sort of size that we might describe as teetering between phone and tablet forms in a phone, it’s a classic inch rating for a traditional PMP.
A number of elements make the display seem dated. First, its screen resolution is 800 x 480. Although the A5’s interface doesn’t look obviously blocky, this is well below the standards set by top smartphones and the iPod touch – which has more pixels crammed into a much smaller display. This becomes particularly noticeable when surfing the web or playing games, although is fine for most video-watching and interface-surfing.
Next up, the Cowon A5 appears to use a TN-based TFT display panel. Admittedly, it’s a good one that looks great when viewed straight-on, but tilt the handheld back and forward and you’ll see the usual contrast shift effect – robbing the picture of all shadow detail. This doesn’t come into effect when held at a movie-viewing angle, and so isn’t a definite deal-breaker, but again makes the Cowon feel a bit dated.
The third in the unholy trinity of screen sins, and the one we found the hardest to live with, is the use of a resistive touchscreen. Almost all smartphones and tablets use capacitive screens these days, and while this is a good example of the resistive type, it feels less responsive – more sluggish – than the capacitive type.
Right at the top of the list of reasons to buy the Cowon A5 is because you want something to watch videos on. It features its own media player software, and comes with more advanced video codec support than most Android devices.
The majority of our test files played flawlessly, and the video player app is decent, with easy navigation of the internal memory and control over playback speed as well as video repeat, fast forward and resume functions. It is not perfect, though. Although HD content did play back successfully, our high bit-rate 1080p MKV files consistently caused a software crash. This is disappointing in a video-driven device. The battery lasts for up to eight hours for video, which is a decent figure given Android is notoriously battery-sapping.
The music side feels less compromised, although 32GB and 64GB capacities fall disappointingly short of the sort of music libraries the 160GB Cowon X7 and iPod Classic can handle. The music app is bespoke and makes particularly good use of album art, blowing covers up to inhabit the background as well as foreground.
There’s none of the confusing navigation we struggled with in last year’s Cowon players, and library navigation is thumb-friendly, making sifting through your collection one-handed fairly easy. However, the resistive touchscreen puts a damper on the experience. Scrolling feels clumsier than on an iPod touch, or capacitive Sony player.
The biggest music win for the Cowon A5 is its use of the JetEffect 3.0 audio customisation software. This is pretty much class-leading in its ability to let you subtly tweak the EQ, and apply unusually good treble and bass-enhancing effects. JetEffect 3.0 also offers reverb and stereo enhancing filters – they don’t improve music in our book, but they must have some fans out there.
Codec support is great, with geek faves FLAC, APE and OGG boosting the A5’s audio cred above that of rival Apple devices. File transfers are fairly quick too, coating up to around 7-10MB a second. However, the USB connection with your computer times out annoyingly quickly. You can view the internal memory as a simple disk drive when connected over USB, but leave the A5 doing nothing for a minute or two and the link will sever.