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Old 01-24-2008, 10:19 AM
macias macias is offline
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Default Cowon D2 and audio books -- "instead of-review"

After my very brief "review" (Sony NWZ-A815) on the Polish forum I decided to post another one in English -- maybe another audio book fan will benefit, you can get tons of reviews about audio or video, audio book perspective is a bit rare, so it better be international this time ;-) Enjoy!

I was frustrated of Sony capabilities (however I do appreciate dumping at last scary SonicStage) so it was time for better choice -- I considered several mp3 players: iRiver Clix2 (my favourite), Creative Zen, iAudio/Cowon F2 and D2. This time I wanted easy access to _content_ of the mp3 files, this was the most important issue but not the only one. The others were: decent support in accessories (like cases, cables), conforming to standards (no more "we use regular USB, just better"), durable build.
On the other hand I was not willing to pay too much for just being able to listen to audio books -- it should be mp3 player, not UMPC with WiFi and DVD drive.

Clix2 was ruled out very quickly -- no bookmarks, sorry, I appreciate nice design and UI, but I am not going to rewind (*) every mp3. Then I found out Creative Zen -- cheap, supports bookmarks, but MTP-only, ough, I suppose I could live with that (all linux fans search for libmtp), but then... no folder/file browsing, tags only. Bye-bye.
F2 or D2. F2 is cheaper, I could buy everything I need for them (i.e. USB charger + case), and what is important I would never have to take the player out of the case. D2 is more expensive, it has several features I don't need (like TV-out), cases are outrageously expensive and even looking at photos, I knew that I have to take it out of the case on a regular basis. It doesn't seem too much durable for me also :-) Battery life here is not a big issue (22 hours of F2 will suit me fine, but... if the battery performance will decrease I still will be able to play long using D2, not F2).

I gave myself one day to think over F2 vs D2. After one day I ordered D2 -- the direct access to the content of the file (*) was decisive.

(*) I digress for a moment -- you remember the old cassette players? If you wanted to play the 3rd song from the beginning you had to _rewind_ cassette. No other way. With laserdisc, CD, DVD, hard-drives, pendrives, heck, even with vinyl you are able to access any song immediately. Every place in the song too. Directly, no waiting. This may make you wonder -- "but I do have modern digital mp3 player and I still have to rewind the song". That's my point -- mp3 players are fully capable of accessing audio content, but manufacturers are not interested in providing such feature despite it does not require new hardware. Only small changes in firmware.

I am computer user for long, and I am used to capabilities the digital devices can provide -- thus Cowon D2.

Ok, so now what I like and what I dislike (I add short summary at the end so if you are tired already, you can jump ahead). Note: below I don't list technical data, it is not a regular review either, just a personal list.

PROS:
+ fade in
+ direct access within any audio/video file or radio band (just tap the screen in any place you want, and the player will skip there)
+ configurable next/previous buttons (works when playing)
+ calculators (regular and scientific)
+ dictionary
+ bookmarks
+ resume
+ USB charger in package
+ radio
+ recording: voice, radio
+ expandable memory
+ folder browsing
+ drag&drop file transfer (unix friendly)
+ easy firmware upgrade (unix friendly again)
+ nice sound quality (I could it call it soft and warm)
+ standard USB port
+ wide volume range; whisper-level is present, but there is only 1 volume point for it, if you want to listen to D2 while falling asleep you need earphones with volume adjustment
+ backlit keyboard :-) (by design) -- you can listen to the books in complete darkness (!)
+ power-on button (smart!, you can wake D2 by touching it, but you can turn it on by power-on button only)
+ long battery life
+ ability do delete files (yes!)
+ text viewer
+ sleep shutdown (for example you know you will fall asleep in about 40 minutes, set the sleep time to one hour, the player while playing will turn off itself -- it is my first player that does not waste battery playing all night long)

Time for CONS:
- a bug in mp3 playback (!) I hope it will be really rare, but in a week I found mp3 file (1 hour long), which D2 cannot handle (I checked firmwares: 2.51, 3.53, 3.54) -- in the middle of the file it skips to the next track, everytime in the same place, it is possible to listen to the rest of the file by jumping over the error-point, for audio books this error means skiping several chapters, so it is a suspense-killer :-(,
- another bug -- it is not uncommon that very fast tapping while playing on "back" button is recognized as "go to the end of the track", which normally takes pressing "stop" and then "next", all those buttons are placed apart, so it is not the problem of user error,
- lousy feedback from Cowon, sometimes I feel like reinventing the English, I spent some time on several support forums for free products (KDE, OpenOffice, Novell openSuse, and more) and I got way better answers, explanations and got them faster than with Cowon (USA),
- technically, the Cowon's support site is amateur -- user does not get notifications on many things, status of the report can be either "in progress" or "closed" (and god knows why),
- plastic, not metal frame
- at some screens, volume +/- buttons do not change the volume but skip to previous/next item on the list; if you are unlucky and some music starts too loud when you are burried in the menus you will hurry in panic out of there to any screen that accepts volume +/- (guess which is it!) -- very funny :-(
- good, but not well polished UI -- to many options are buried somewhere very deep in the menus
- inefficient navigation through menus/categories (time, time!)
- UI: no back button (just like in www browser), important omission, with this life would be much easier -- "get me back right where I was" instead of "settings, display, the 5th item")
- no screensaver settings, just time to turn off the screen
- no fade out
- touchscreen is responsive, but not the "operating system" (I could see that after I tapped the screen, correct button flashed but nothing happened; this happens very often)
- included charger uses another USB port (faster charging, but is the point having so many ports)
- USB ports cover (who covers USB ports nowadays? it only makes the player case less practical since probably you have to put out D2 completely out of the case in order to charge it or connect to computer)
- USB ports cover is attached with tiny plastic wire -- it will fall off very soon and of course it will be my fault not the designers :-(
- 100% protection impossible -- due to the touchscreen (you have to touch it after all) but also thanks to USB ports cover mentioned above
- expensive (!) cases (Poland)
- poor range of accessories (Poland)
- no spare screen protectors in the package
- lengthy firmware upgrade process (3 steps, 3 connections and disconnections, 3 restarts)
- battery charging -- no ETA (!)
- dictionary format not documented (national dictionaries!)
- absurdly "choice" of firmware versions, "unofficial" tips and tricks where to find this or that version -- instead of simply having the latest stable version, there is one official, there is another Korean official, there is previous-but-faster, there is older-but-more-stable, connection between Korean and international is unclear for me, simply put -- a mess (luckily I know Korean enough to understand the meaning of "3.53" ;-D )
- no screen rotation (minor thing)
- screen of music playback is cluttered -- there is big album image (empty in my case), but there is not enough space for displaying the track name (you can use custom skins or themes; as I am writting this every version shows album images ;-) if you don't like it either you create your own or post a wish-report)
- next/previous buttons not configurable in pause mode (this is really odd and confusing while navigating, because now next button behaves differently on pause and while playing)
- all buttons works when tapped, but only some works when pressed&hold (too often you have to tap several times)
- no word wrap in text viewer
- time of the bookmark is not displayed
- menus are not configurable (like "put video & dictionary menus as utilities submenus")
- not fully configurable colors in text viewer (what happened to white on black?)
- useless video playback feature (**)
- not open-sourced firmware (!, ***)
- a lot of potential of D2 is currently wasted

(**) video -- yes, it has video support, you can check the specs. So why I put it on the cons side? My idea of functionality is: no-time-wasted. If I have to download a lecture from the net, convert it for my player (time!), delete it (I already have 15 DVDs of lectures, no way I could put all of them into D2), convert another, or keep all doubled... I'll pass. D2 was unable to play any video I copied -- .flv, .mp4, .wmv, .avi. MAYBE if I converted video especially for D2 then MAYBE it would play it. But I don't care. The player should fulfill user requirements, not vice versa.

(***) yeah, open-source :-) I am not saying that if you have no clue how to build a bridge you immediately open-source its construction. However, it is sad that so many companies with profile fitting the open source idea, deny or ignore intrinsic motivation of skilled developers all around the world. If you are not convinced look at all the artwork, even done only for D2 -- high quality, gorgeous looking, all of that done from passion.
If you are still not convinced consider open sourced Linksys firmware ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linksys_WRT54G_series ) -- all of the sudden low-end device, thanks to "amateur" upgrade is able to compete with high-end models. With Linksys it may seem as shooting themselves in a foot, but iRiver, Creative, Cowon do not have any product for corporate buyers, do they?
So why not open sources of D2 firmware (or better Clix2 :-) )? If you take a look at reviews of various players you will notice that pretty much all of them are limited by their firmwares. D2/Clix2 has a lot of potential, but is all wasted because Cowon/iRiver cannot/doesn't know how/don't care/you name it make it an outstanding player, killer among flash players. Instead of that it just survives competition.

Final note before SUMMARY -- it looks like I dislike a lot of things, this is a bad player, right? Not exactly, I am complaining about not documented dictionary format, but show me another player with dictionary feature.

SUMMARY, as promised:
? is this player superb? -- nope.
? what are the most importants flaws? HARDWARE: usb cover, SOFTWARE: crippled firmware (not open source).

If I got my money back, would I buy it again? It is a pity that such player has so many downsides but after spending some time with I like despite all the disadvantages and firmware bug. It is not perfect, it is not most reliable player I could images, but it seems it is the best among others. So, would I buy it again. Yes -- and let's hope Cowon will make D2 soon even better.

Thank you for the reading, bye!

Last edited by macias; 04-04-2008 at 09:01 AM. Reason: Cowon site
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  #2  
Old 01-24-2008, 12:21 PM
dfkt's Avatar
dfkt dfkt is offline
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Location: Vienna, Austria
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It seems you don't have the D2 for very long... some of your negative points would be self-explanatory and are actually advantages over other players.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- inefficient navigation (time, time!)
I find the navigation to be VERY efficient, especially for audio books - since you can just tap on the timeline to go to a certain point in a long audio file, instead of using FFWD/REW. File/folder navigation is also really nice, thanks to the "virtual motion" gestures (swipe up/down/left/right).

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- no screensaver settings
Why a screensaver? The TFT would burn out much faster if it's always active - battery life would suffer as well. Turning the screen off is far more efficient.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- touchscreen is responsive, but not the "operating system" (I could see that after I tapped the screen, correct button flashed but nothing happened; this happens very often)
This never happened to me. (I don't use the stylus, I always use my fingers.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- included charger uses another USB port (faster charging, but is the point having so many ports)
Yes, it's weird, but there's a method to this madness. The normal 4-pin mini-USB port doesn't have enough pins to achieve all the things the 9-pin micro-USB port can do (TV-out, line-in recording). Good thing however they still used a regular mini-USB jack besides that, so it can be charged and attached on any computer, without requiring a proprietary or exotic cable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- USB ports cover (who covers USB ports nowadays? it only makes the player case less practical since probably you have to put out D2 completely out of the case in order to charge it or connect to computer)
- USB ports cover is attached with tiny plastic wire -- it will fall off very soon and of course it will be my fault not the designers :-(
I had my D2 for a year now, and the cover is as sturdy and secure as on the first day. I like that it prevents lint to enter the ports, and makes a neater overall appearance.


Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- 100% protection impossible -- due to the touchscreen (you have to touch it after all) but also thanks to USB ports cover mentioned above
- expensive (!) cases (Poland)
- poor range of accessories (Poland)
- no spare screen protectors in the package
As I said, I had mine for a year, and there's not a single scratch on my D2. I use a very good and sturdy $1.40 screen protector from dealextreme.com (free worldwide shipping), that's all I need. No case or other thing necessary, IMO. http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.214

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- lengthy firmware upgrade process (3 steps, 3 connections and disconnections, 3 restarts)
This is for safety reasons. With that 3-step method you're much less likely to brick the player while upgrading. Another advantage of this method is that you can change GUI themes very easily, by just dropping a modified D2N_rs.bin onto the player.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- battery charging -- no ETA (!)
None of my 5 players shows an ETA for battery charging time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- dictionary format not documented (national dictionaries!)
The dictionary was licensed from a company called "Powerdic" - and it's only meant for the Korean market, since it's only in the Korean firmware versions, not the international ones. Personally, I find it more than useless - the D2 is an audio and video player, not a pseudo-PDA... too bad many people think otherwise - this delays fixing bugs for the main features (audio/video) while implementing even more junk features ("Sciecntific" calculator...) in the D2's firmware.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- screen of music playback is cluttered -- there is big album image (empty in my case), but there is not enough space for displaying the track name (you can use custom "skins", but currently they don't integrate too well with the rest of the UI)
I find the album art display to be too small, I'd rather see it bigger. What do you mean by "not enough space for the track name"? Just set the title scrolling speed to your liking.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- next/previous buttons not configurable in pause mode (this is really odd and confusing while navigating, because now next button behaves differently on pause and while playing)
- all buttons works when tapped, but only some works when pressed&hold (too often you have to tap several times)
I'm not sure what you mean, but my buttons are configured like this:
Hold off: VOL - / MENU (long: PLAY/PAUSE) / VOL +
Hold on: SKIP (long: REW) / PLAY/PAUSE / SKIP (long: FFWD)


Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- menus are not configurable (like "put video & dictionary menus as utilities submenus")
Agreed, the dictionary is a remnant from old firmware versions - why the firmware programmers forgot to put it in the utilities folder with the rest of the junk is beyond me. Same thing as they overlooked the "sciecntific" type for the last 4 firmware revisions... oh brother.


Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- UI: no back button (just like in www browser), important omission, with this life would be much easier -- "get me back right where I was" instead of "settings, display, the 5th item")
Again, virtual motion - swipe left to go back. Of course that only works in the menu structure, not on the playback screen.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- useless video playback feature
Very useful to me, but yes - no need for transcoding would be excellent. The D2's hardware sure could handle downscaling of 640x480 video, or h.264 playback. I'm using MaxSt's very excellent "D2video" converter - transcoding is more or less hassle-free... and the speed of D2video is blazing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- not open-sourced firmware
A Rockbox port for the D2 has already been started: http://www.rockbox.org/twiki/bin/view/Main/CowonD2Info

Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
- a lot of potential of D2 is currently wasted
Absolutely... too bad they concentrate on stupid pseudo-PDA junk instead of making the D2 the perfect audio and video player. If I want a dictionary or a calculator, I use my Palm PDA or Symbian cellphone, if I want to play games I use my Nintendo DS. Those devices get these features right - they were made for these. Not so with the D2. Besides audio and video it can only be a "jack of all trades, master of none". Too bad so many people seem to put more value in gimmicks and trinkets than in audio and video playback - the things the D2 was made for, initially.
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  #3  
Old 01-24-2008, 01:42 PM
macias macias is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 4
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Dfkt,

Thank you for your comment.

> It seems you don't have the D2 for very long...

True, one day :-D

> - inefficient navigation (time, time!)
> ---End Quote---
> I find the navigation to be VERY efficient, especially for audio
> books - since you can just tap on the timeline to go to a certain
> point in a long audio file, instead of using FFWD/REW.

I wrote some many good things about direct access that I thought it was hard to miss. I am not talking about this, but in general -- navigation in player per se. It is way faster to get to any place (in player) in my previous Sony than in D2.

For example changing folder. I have to tap on the screen, then tap again on the browser then tap again in folder, then tap again...

> File/folder
> navigation is also really nice, thanks to the "virtual motion"
> gestures (swipe up/down/left/right).

I tried it in several places, it didn't work. So I am following the basics. Take a look at the text viewer and dictionary, similar features, different behaviour. This is what I call inefficient navigation.

> - no screensaver settings
> ---End Quote---
> Why a screensaver? The TFT would burn out much faster if it's
> always active - battery life would suffer as well. Turning the
> screen off is far more efficient.

Black background with tiny clock is not a killer for 52 hours battery (my battery :-) ). I would like to see the clock while I am listening to audiobook, because turning light (at night) every time I want to check the time is awkward considering I am holding quite advanced piece of technology.

And besides -- why not give users freedom. You don't like screensaver, fine, turn it off, I like it, I would like to turn it on :-)

> - touchscreen is responsive, but not the "operating system" (I
> could see that after I tapped the screen, correct button flashed
> but nothing happened; this happens very often)
> ---End Quote---
> This never happened to me. (I don't use the stylus, I always use my
> fingers.)

I didn't even get stylus out of the box ;-) It happens for me.

> - included charger uses another USB port (faster charging, but is
> the point having so many ports)
> ---End Quote---
> Yes, it's weird, but there's a method to this madness. The normal
> 4-pin mini-USB port doesn't have enough pins to to achieve all the
> things the 9-pin micro-USB port can do (TV-out, line-in recording).

Maybe I put it in other words -- cover the micro USB, do not cover normal mini USB (and let charge via normal USB, I didn't try it because I don't have mini USB charger). Then I wouldn't have to take of the cover each time for charging.

> I had my D2 for a year now, and the cover is as sturdy and secure
> as on the first day. I like that it prevents lint to enter the
> ports, and makes a neater overall appearance.

Ok, good news for me. But about the cover -- the case should be for it. Now, when you have case AND the cover there is too much confusion.

> - 100% protection impossible -- due to the touchscreen (you have to
> touch it after all) but also thanks to USB ports cover mentioned
> above
> ---End Quote---
> As I said, I had mine for a year, and there's not a single scratch
> on my D2. I use a very good and sturdy $1.40 screen protector from
> dealextreme.com (free worldwide shipping), that's all I need. No
> case or other thing necessary, IMO.

I won't risk my money :-))

> - lengthy firmware upgrade process (3 steps, 3 connections and
> disconnections, 3 restarts)
> ---End Quote---
> This is for safety reasons. With that 3-step method you're much
> less likely to brick the player while upgrading. Another advantage
> of this method is that you can change GUI themes very easily, by
> just dropping a modified D2N_rs.bin onto the player.

Still is lengthy and I assume themes could be available in other ways too. It is not the only way of solving this.

> - battery charging -- no ETA (!)
> ---End Quote---
> None of my 5 players shows an ETA for battery charging time.

So, every of them is misbehaving :-) My laptop shows discharge/recharge ETA and it is extremely useful for me.

> - dictionary format not documented (national dictionaries!)
> ---End Quote---
> The dictionary was licensed from a company called "Powerdic" - and
> it's only meant for the Korean market, since it's only in the
> Korean firmware versions, not the international ones. Personally, I
> find it more than useless - the D2 is an audio and video player,
> not a pseudo-PDA... > too bad many people think otherwise

Well, after all you use those features which you want -- me: audio and dictionary, calculator, maybe text viewer and radio. Paint, flash games, video, photos are not needed.

So it is better to use full potential and each user picks what she/he wants.

> - this
> delays fixing bugs for the main features (audio/video) while
> implementing even more junk features ("Sciecntific" calculator...)
> in the D2's firmware.

Ok, I totally agree with you here. But it is about priorities -- first fix the bugs, make the OS more efficient, then add fun. But it does not mean -- "do not add any extras at all", right?

> - screen of music playback is cluttered -- there is big album image
> (empty in my case), but there is not enough space for displaying
> the track name (you can use custom "skins", but currently they
> don't integrate too well with the rest of the UI)
> ---End Quote---
> I find the album art display to be too small,

Different people, different opinions, what can I say. I don't use any album arts so...

> What do you mean by "not enough space for the track name"?
> Just set the title scrolling speed to your liking.

I would like to see them as whole, without need of scrolling. After all, what can I get from looking at the default, big icon? ;-)

> - next/previous buttons not configurable in pause mode (this is
> really odd and confusing while navigating, because now next button
> behaves differently on pause and while playing) - all buttons works
> when tapped, but only some works when pressed&hold (too often you
> have to tap several times) ---End Quote---
> I'm not sure what you mean, but my buttons are configured like
> this: Hold off: VOL - / MENU (long: PLAY/PAUSE) / VOL +
> Hold on: SKIP (long: REW) / PLAY/PAUSE / SKIP (long: FFWD)

No, not those buttons. Run the music playback screen, tap the screen, on the left and right there are previous/next buttons. I configured them as skip (-30 sec, -2 sec, +2 sec, +30 sec) but it only works while playing. On pause the behaviour is different and hardcoded.

> - menus are not configurable (like "put video & dictionary menus as
> utilities submenus")
> ---End Quote---
> Agreed, the dictionary is a remnant from old firmware versions -
> why the firmware programmers forgot to put it in the utilities
> folder with the rest of the junk is beyond me. Same thing as they
> overlooked the "sciecntific" type for the last 4 firmware
> revisions... oh brother.

:-)))

> - UI: no back button (just like in www browser), important
> omission, with this life would be much easier -- "get me back right
> where I was" instead of "settings, display, the 5th item")
> ---End Quote---
> Again, virtual motion - swipe left to go back. Of course that only
> works in the menu structure, not on the playback screen.

Thank you for the tip. Still, back button would be nice.

> - useless video playback feature
> ---End Quote---
> Very useful to me,

:-D See above, you don't like the dictionary, I don't like videos.

Btw. I would like them if...

> no need for transcoding would be
> excellent.

...exactly.

> - not open-sourced firmware
> ---End Quote---
> A Rockbox port for the D2 has already been started:
> http://www.rockbox.org/twiki/bin/view/Main/CowonD2Info

Great, great news! I didn't know about it at all (although I knew about rockbox).

> - a lot of potential of D2 is currently wasted
> ---End Quote---
> Absolutely... too bad they concentrate on stupid pseudo-PDA junk
> instead of making the D2 the perfect audio and video player.

True.

> If I
> want a dictionary or a calculator, I use my Palm PDA or cellphone,
> if I want to play games I use my Nintendo DS. Those devices get
> these features right - they were made for these. Not so with the
> D2. Besides audio and video it can only be a "jack of all trades,
> master of none". Too bad so many people seem to put more value in
> gimmicks and trinkets than in audio and video playback - the things
> the D2 was made for, initially. ***************

True, true, true. On the other hand if you look at the capabilities we probably soon end with all-in-one devices.

And about dictionary -- I would say the same if I can only afford so many devices :-) So in this area I am glad it is there, the next thing I have dictionary on, has 14.1" screen, a bit too big for the pocket ;-)
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  #4  
Old 01-24-2008, 02:00 PM
Andreas's Avatar
Andreas Andreas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by macias View Post
Dfkt,

Thank you for your comment.
QUOTE button xD
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  #5  
Old 01-24-2008, 08:52 PM
yanasina yanasina is offline
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A minor thing about the case. Mine was free with purchase and allows access to every port so I never have to take the D2 out of the case, even to charge or to connect it to the computer. I love the protection it gives and it looks great.

I've had my D2 a lot longer than you have and I haven't even tried half the features you describe here!
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