Pros: Effective EQ, BBE, Gapless playback, Lengthy battery life, Lightweight, Accessible physical buttons, Easy to drag-and-drop files.
Cons: Weird UI, Custom UIs are slow, Can't use while charging, Video format support lacking, Battery life meter is useless, Korean proprietary plug.
Cowon J3 -- JoonBug's Review with pics!
Let's face it, at the time of writing, the iPod has taken over the DAP (Digital Audio Player) market. Wherever one goes, one is bound to see someone with either an iPhone, iPod touch, iPod nano, iPod classic, or iPod shuffle. The characteristic white Apple earbud is more a fashion symbol than a way to be in touch with our music. The iPod itself is also not that great of a music player either, sporting nice audio circuitry but messed up software, making it very difficult for people to enjoy their music. Some don't care for this lack of audio fidelity, and you see them wearing the popular Beats cans. Those who do sport dangerous looking "portable" rigs with small DACs and amps, while others skirt the iPod line altogether for a lesser known DAP, like this Cowon J3.
My trek to this product was not entirely unusual. I had already had an iPod touch (3rd gen) with an ESW10 with 256kbps music and I was happy. But then my iPod became dependent on an AC connection because of its flagging battery. I had already found head-fi by then, and saw the J3 was enthusiastically recommended as a great DAP with phenomenal sound quality So... let's find out if the J3 deserves the hype!
Before we get started...
- My comments about the J3 stem from my experience with an iPod touch (3rd gen).
- I like a very neutral sound signature.
- My favorite genres of music are classical, acoustic rock, and jazz in that order.
- I purchased my J3 with a DMB tuner, only users in Korea, and possibly China would care about this. For obvious reasons, having the DMB tuner makes the J3 more expensive.
- I got the White 32GB DMB one from a Korean vendor while I was in Korea.
- I also want to apologize for the crummy picture quality. I need a new camera.
Cowon J3 Specs (from the Cowon page)
|(L x W x D) and Weight||106.5mm x 56mm x 9.9mm|
|Color Options||Chic Black and Sleek White|
|Screen Specs||3.3" AMOLED (490x 272 screen ratio - 16:9)|
|Battery||64hr Music, 11hr Video, 3.5hr USB charge|
|Headphone Jack Output||L/R each 29mW (w/ a 16 ohm earphone)|
|Frequency Output||20 ~ 20,000Hz|
|Buttons**||Power/Hold (left), Next/Prev Track (right), Play/Pause (right), Volume (right)|
|Ports||MicroSD slot (up to 32GB), 20 pin USB proprietary jack|
|Supported Audio Codecs||MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, APE, WAV (also unofficially AAC)|
|Supported Video Formats||AVI, WMV, ASF (also some early H.264 vids)|
* = Some countries have specific size/color options i.e. 4GB only comes in White, etc.
** = Button placement is when the screen is facing towards you.
More specific J3 info can be found at JetAudio's J3 Tech Spec Page
The J3 comes in a minimalistic, self-contained plastic small flower-pot shaped apparatus.
Open it up, and it becomes...
Pretty, huh? Unfortunately the outer covering on my J3 packaging was cracked. I'll blame the postal service on that...
Opening up the brown paper cone-thing leads to a user manual, earphones, proprietary USB cable, and a proprietary 24 to 20 pin plug. The plug is absolutely useless if one is outside of Korea, as it's a standard in Korea but rarely seen and used elsewhere. The user manual does a so-so job of explaining the controls inside, but it suffices. The earphones are decent, better than the stock iPod earphones, but one will need a better headphone to enjoy the J3 fully.
Overall, a pretty spartan collection. Points for a clean packaging look.
My rating = Good
Design & User Interface (UI)
On the outside...
Having won the Red Dot Design award in 2010, the J3 is aggressively marketed by Cowon and JetAudio for its fetching looks. My J3 came in white, and I was very pleased with that color. The white was innocuous enough to avoid screaming "LOOK AT ME!" but also stood out with that bright sheen. Those who like their color palette on the more inconspicuous side would like the black. There is a fairly solid-feeling screen with a metal plate obtruding the bottom part. I didn't really like the extra space on the bottom: it made the 3.3" screen look smaller. But then again, the space is convenient for holding up the device. On the right (with screen facing towards you) there is a Next/Prev track rocker, below that a Play/Pause button, and way below that a volume rocker. Being used to the iPod, I would have appreciated the volume rocker at the top, but it works.
On the other side of the device is a power/hold button. I actually have broken my power button and would like to warn prospective J3 owners from pressing it too hard. This thing is not as indestructible as my Touch's power/hold button. Finally, on the bottom is a headphone jack and a cover, when uncovered, reveals a microSD port and a proprietary USB port. I like the cover as it keeps dust out of the ports, but it is inconvenient to access the ports. If you grow your nails a little, it shouldn't be a problem. All, in all, not bad, Cowon!
My rating = Great.
On the UI side...
On the software side, the J3 has three main modes of interaction. First, there is a "block" mode where every function appears as a square block, much like an iOS interface. There is no option to add icons or widgets, and blocks can be moved around by holding on to a certain block and dragging it when red markings appear around it. Secondly, there is a "list" view where said functions appear on a list, much like that of a Zune. As far as I am aware, the list order cannot be changed. Lastly, there is a widget mode where one can pick and choose "blocks" and functional widgets to add on multiple screens. The experience is quite similar to that of an Android interface. Interesting what Cowon is trying to do... choose the mobile OS flavor you like, I guess?
Usability wise, the first interface is my favorite as it is the least hassle to deal with. Functions load quickly, and the feel is snappy. The second interface is cool to play around, and has that schnazzy sort of feel until I got annoyed of scrolling down all the time to change my EQ settings. The third UI is technically my favorite and provides fun little widgets that greatly improve the user experience. However, there's also plenty to dislike about this interface... ie 70% of the times I've crashed my J3, it's come from this interface. More onto that later.
There is the route of a custom interface. The community at iAudiophile.net is fairly active about all things Cowon, and one can receive help installing interfaces. I'd personally like to recommend Kizune's UIs which are, I believe, the more popular of those who choose a custom UI. Having said that, I recommend sticking with the stock UI as it's the fastest UI for a J3. Period. Being used to an iPod touch's snappiness in switching from apps, the load and response times for custom interfaces were unbearably slow.
Long story made short, the use the "block"/iOS interface. Cross your fingers that you don't crash the device.. like I did so many times. Custom UIs are great if you can wait for every touch and button click to register. The UI does the job, just barely.
My rating = Pass/OK
Next up: Music/SQ
Thanks to work and school, there's no time to work on this review, but rest assured, this review will be completed by Christmas-time.