We’ve covered the main parts most Cowon devices are all about, music and video. But the Cowon A5 is a bit more versatile than most of the company’s gadgets, because it runs Android.
Cowon has produced its own user interface to slap on top, and it looks good. Its icons have a tasteful, relaxed visual style that brings a more grown-up look to the device than many Android devices. The basic layout of Android remains, though. You have vertically-scrolling home screens to customise with links and widgets, as well as a main apps menu accessed with a swipe on the bar to the right of the home screen – very thumb-friendly.
These two core parts of the interface can only be viewed in landscape mode, presumably because the touch sensitive bezel buttons need to be in the right place at all times. Apps, including the music app, tend to support screen rotation.
Android – the Missing Bits
The Cowon A5 is not a fully Google certified device, and therefore does not have the Google Play store or Google’s roster of apps. In fact, it has no built-in app store at all – most non-certified Android devices at least shove a third-party solution in. Cowon may add one in a software update.
Installing your own is fairly simple. Android app installer files (.apk) can be downloaded and dragged on to the internal memory, or snagged directly from within the A5’s internet browser.
With a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, the A5 isn’t capable of playing the most impressive Android games well, but it can easily handle casual favourites like Angry Birds and Temple Run. However, focusing on music and video rather than apps and games, app potential here is just ok rather than impressive.
To help make us for it slightly, the Cowon A5 has a few extra apps of its own. There’s a stylish-looking FM radio and a custom Twitter app. For the latter, you’re better off seeking out one of the better-known Android alternatives.
There’s a web browser too, to let you surf using the integrated Wi-Fi connectivity. The 4.8in screen is large enough to make reading sites comfortable, but the resistive touchscreen becomes a serious annoyance here. If you’re used to the pinch-zoom gesture from browsing on a smartphone, bear in mind you can’t do it here thanks to the resistive touchscreen.
The main interface of the PMP looks pretty good, but a trio of factors conspire to reduce performance below that of the best Android devices. The 1GHz processor is fairly low-powered, the Android Gingerbread software lacks the performance tweaks of newer versions and the resistive touchscreen simply isn’t as snappy as a good capacitive screen. With these working in tandem, the Cowon A5 doesn’t feel as slick as it should do – as a £250 Android device released in 2012.
An unusual device of ups and downs, the Cowon A5 isn’t the easiest Android portable to assess. It’s chunky but doesn’t have the hard drive storage you’d expect from such a big box, it has Android but its touchscreen and ageing software let it down. Its music and video capabilities are far better than most other Android devices, but gaps remain in its video armoury.
For a device so expensive, there are just a few too many out-of-date parts here to earn a recommendation. You may not get the impressive JetEffect engine with other Android media players, but we’d much rather live with the cheaper, slimmer, prettier Samsung Galaxy S WiFi 4.2.
The Cowon A5 is an unusual device that feels like it has come from a different gadget era. It’s quirky and has unusually good audio capabilities. However, it is too behind the time in too many respects to earn a recommendation. The display isn’t great, the touchscreen is resistive and for a body so big storage is surprisingly limited.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9