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Old 03-13-2011, 10:37 PM
Uberman5000 Uberman5000 is offline
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Default Was Thinking About a Zune HD, But Now...

I've noticed the Cowon J3. Normally, a Cowon player would be well out of my budget, but I was able to find an 8GB J3 that costs less than the Zune HD I would have gotten, and that has complicated this decision. Let's take a step back and examine the pros and cons of each device.


At a glance, the Cowon J3 is pretty spectacular. Gorgeous screen, I like its design (it really deserved that Red Dot), it would get along well with my Mac (though so would the Zune HD), Audible compatibility, like the Z-HD, and best of all, it has expandable memory. I keep all my music on a 16GB MicroSD card for use on my Sansa Clip+, and if I can hot-swap between different players, that would be pretty fantastic. It means I only have to keep track of one music collection, instead of two. And I can get some more mSD's for my video collection, something which is a pretty important priority for my PMP.


I also like that the J3 has TV-out, a feature I used all the time on my Zune 120, and I can get the cable for six bucks on Amazon. It's kind of a bummer that it can't seem to do HDMI-out, like the Zune HD, but at least composite-out means it'll work on any TV I happen to come across, and I wouldn't have to buy an $80 dock for the Z-HD.

The battery life on the J3 is also unfathomable. 64 hours audio, 11 hours video?? How does it do that?? I'll also probably be told that its SQ is lightyears ahead of the Zune HD, and though I've tried a Z-HD and its SQ is pretty superb, Cowon players in general tend to be in a class by themselves. Its pile of EQ options, and BBE support, is also nice. I also like that it has all-external controls for volume, back and next and play and pause, as well as the touch-screen controls.


I've actually handled a Zune HD, though, and I'm in love with the design. I'm flabbergasted at how light it is, and it's the perfect size for slipping in my pocket, and watching a video on. The J3's probably roughly the same size, but I checked its specs, and it's a teeny bit bigger and heavier. The J3 also doesn't have Wi-Fi, which might not be that big a deal, but the internet browser, and the Zune apps, might be a nice thing to have.


And, I'm sorry, but I think the J3's interface is awful. The sight of those generic black boxes and icons just pales in comparison to the slick UI on the Zune HD (though I like the way each icon flips by itself on the J3 when its horizontal, rather than all of them flipping as a group, like you would expect). Sure, I could switch it to the List mode or the Widgets mode, and I can put custom wallpapers on it, and it's a perfectly functional interface, but at its core, it's stylistically flawed. There's no Home button, meaning I have to plod through its menus to get back to the main, and I think its album art view is spectacularly bland. And in List mode, even though the little descriptions on each list item are helpful, why is there a whole option for "Battery"? Could they not put a battery icon in the corner, like in the boring Grid view? The battery life lasts for over three days of constant use; I doubt it needs to be that large for constant updates.


The thing about the Zune's interface is that it does a lot more. The Metro design language is easy to read and it's very intuitive, it's easy to navigate around the player, and even though I have to push a silly button on the side to bring up the play and pause, volume controls and back and next, I can easily tell that swiping the album art to the right will advance it to the next song, and I like just being able to poke the song list in the main album art view, rather than having to open a different menu on the J3. I also love how much more I can get out of the interface; I can look up band bios, and Pins and Smart DJ are really cool.

There's some problems with the Zune HD, though; the biggest elephant in the room being it has no expandable storage. The Z-HD would be replacing a Zune 120, a player where I never had to worry about losing space, but going from 120GB to 32GB will probably be annoying, considering that half that space is just my music collection, never mind my huge video collection. The J3 hypothetically has infinite storage, if I have enough microSD cards. It's hard for me to predict how far 32GB is going to stretch for me, or if I even need to make that decision.

Another thing is, I tried a friend's Zune HD, and I couldn't figure out how to put the games and apps on it, such as they were. The Canadian Zune Marketplace seems to only have WP7 apps, and there wasn't a "Marketplace" option on the Zune HD, so either I hadn't tried hard enough to look for the Zune apps, or they're just not there. This is a huge disappointment; I would have loved to try Audiosurf Tilt, and the Facebook and Twitter apps would have been helpful, if I can find out how to get them. There's probably a number of jury-rig solutions, but I shouldn't have to resort to that. I'm not sure if the Zune's supposed to have those apps built-in, and my friends' firmware just didn't get upgraded, or if I just straight-up can't have those apps. The region-switch trick would probably work, though.

The J3 has a few apps built-in, and while they're a bit crude, they're useful. The comic reader is neat, the notepad and doodling app could be fun, and though the Adobe Flash thing might be a bit of a silly addition, it might have its moments.


The J3, though, has one huge flaw associated with it: getting it in Canada is extremely difficult. The $189 8GB model on Amazon.com won't ship to a Canadian address, and I don't have any contacts in the US that I could trust to be an intermediary. It's not available at any Canadian retailers that I know of, like TigerDirect or NewEgg, and at least the Zune Originals site can make me a custom one and send it right to my house for just five bucks. The various hoops I'd have to jump through with the J3 might put it out of my budget again, plus an 8GB player for the same price as a 32GB player of about equal spec is kind of hard to swallow. One annoying thing, though, is I can't decide on a design to be engraved on the back of my Zune, and I was sort of considering just getting the Cowon to avoid that decision. That's for another post, though.

At their cores, both devices are pretty alike. Perfect physical size, similar designs, basically the same gorgeous screen, superlative audio quality, Audible support, and I could output it to a TV. The Zune HD seems ahead for now, but are there unplundered depths to the Cowon J3 that I don't quite understand? Is its file support a whole lot better? Are there hidden features to it that I would find mind-bogglingly useful? What do you think?

Last edited by Uberman5000; 03-13-2011 at 11:17 PM.
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  #2  
Old 03-13-2011, 11:45 PM
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eddie.exe eddie.exe is offline
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ok
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Old 03-13-2011, 11:48 PM
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Night Surfer Night Surfer is offline
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I took a close look at the J3 myself and was very tempted.
The dealbreaker ended up being the issues with audiobooks and podcasts.
You can read about them here.
Sexy player though, especially if you like tweaking the sound.
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Old 03-14-2011, 05:06 AM
McGyyver McGyyver is offline
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The 8gb J3 is more expensive then the 32gb ZHD. You get your apps in Canada by creating an account, that is located in America (got marketplace in europe). Then, and maybe Im wrong, but when 32gb cant hold your collection, how should 32(sd) + 8? Why dont you just get the 64gb version (yes, more expensive) ifm having movies on your pmp is so important. The Zune supports 720p (HD) video out, and the av dock is 8$ on amazon. While the J3 is pretty much better in music listening battery life, their video life is about the same. Meaning if you use the screen for swapping songs / watching, the difference wont be this big (it will still be there!!). Just consider this.
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Old 03-14-2011, 03:28 PM
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JoshRead JoshRead is offline
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It all depends on your priorities. If you listen to lossless quality music, you probably use FLAC, which Zune HD doesn't support. You're going to get more customization options in both the interface and, more importantly, the audio, on the J3. However, as you mentioned, there are a lot of positives to the Zune HD. I prefer it for the easy podcasting support with Zune software, Zune Pass, and the interface. Apps/internet are just a bonus.
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Old 03-14-2011, 03:34 PM
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steinburger1109 steinburger1109 is offline
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First off, have you read the reviews of these two devices on this site? They're fantastic sources of information and very well done. Although one word to the wise about them, I'm not sure about the J3, but the ZuneHD has gotten several updates since that review and a lot of wrinkles have been ironed out, as well as some codec support added (primarily XViD). So, here are the links for the reviews:

http://anythingbutipod.com/2009/10/zune-hd-review/
http://anythingbutipod.com/2010/11/cowon-j3-review/

Also, Wifi. Zune's got it (albeit not in the capacity that a lot of people would like) while the J3 lacks it altogether. As for the J3's interface, I know that it is highly customizable, and that there is one that was said to be very similar to the HD's. As for codec support, the J3 trounces the HD (nearly full lists of codecs supported on each are in the reviews above). You also need to understand that that battery life for the J3 is exaggerated. That is the rated battery life, as Cowon found it to be using unrealistically low quality for the files and the dimmest setting etc. I have no experience with the J3, but the HD gets me through the day with more than enough battery and I just charge it overnight. What you said about sound quality is true, the J3 is better than the HD, although only through it's BBE enhancements and custom EQ. I'm not saying the sound on the HD is bad, you just have to realize that if you're used to having a good EQ, you'll miss it with the HD.

Ultimately, I think you should read those reviews I posted because these guys really know what they're talking about.

Much luck,
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