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Old 03-13-2011, 10:37 PM
Uberman5000 Uberman5000 is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2009
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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 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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