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Old 07-02-2012, 12:52 AM
da1writer da1writer is offline
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Default Cowon z2 Review + More to come

Cowon z2 Review

With every Cowon device I've bought, I've never shyed away from writing a review on it. This is a bit different though as this isn't just an ordinary Cowon device, it's not using a flash based OS like my S9 and J3, it's an actual Android OS. Don't let that fool you though, as this isn't Cowon's first foray into an Android world, their very first device - the Cowon D3 was their first whack at it. And they sure did whack crap inside it as it's specs were very abysmal, more so in fact that I and many others skipped it even with some of us wondering of the greatness of Cowon's Audio capabilities inside a Android shell. Cowon acknowledged this and sought after the issues that the D3 had, trying their best to fix it for their next device. Thus we now introduce the Cowon z2, a very well designed device with specs not that outdated compared to the D3. The Cowon z2 comes packed with Android's Gingerbread flavor and their own skinning interface which adds a few additional functions and smoothness. Lets take a look at what this device is and what I liked about it (and what I didn't like about it).

Cowon z2 Plenue Tech Specs
  • CPU: 1ghz Cortex A8 CPU (800mhz VPU, 320mhz GPU)
  • Ram: 512mb (1GB Rom)
  • Capacity: 8/16/32 GB, NTFS file system, MicroSDHC slot (up to 64gb Reformatted)
  • Screen: 3.7″ 480 x 800 AMOLED, Pentile RGBG subpixel matrix, capacitive multi-touch
  • Size, weight: 62.8 x 116.5 x 11.8 mm, 116 g
  • Tactile buttons: power/hold, volume +/-, play/pause, FFWD/skip, REW/skip
  • Soft buttons: back, menu, home
  • Battery: Li-Poly, 8.5h video, 22h audio, 3h AC charging, USB charging
  • Additional hardware features: Wi-Fi B/G/N, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (A2DP, AVRCP, OPP), speaker, microphone, G-sensor, vibrating alarm, FM radio, voice recorder, S/PDIF audio output (HDMI)
  • OS: Android 2.3.5 ‘Gingerbread’
  • Audio formats: MP1/2/3, OGG Vorbis, AAC/M4A/MP4, WMA/ASF, FLAC, APE, WAV/PCM
  • Lyrics: LDB
  • Sound enhancements: BBE+, Jeteffect 5.0, 5-band pseudo-parametric hardware EQ, 48 Presets
  • Video formats: AVI (DivX, Xvid), MP4/M4V (h.264), MKV, MPG (MPEG 1), DAT, TS, TP, TRP, 3GP, WMV/ASF (WMV 7/8/9)
  • Video resolution: up to 1080p (1920 x 1080)
  • Subtitles: SRT, SMI, SMIL, SUB (Text Form)
  • Audio tracks in video: MP1/2/3, AC3, AAC, OGG Vorbis, PCM, FLAC, WMA
  • Video output: HDMI, composite (NTSC/PAL), S/PDIF audio
  • Included accessories: USB cable, AC charger, earphones (SE2), software CD,
    printed manual
  • Sold separately: HDMI output cable, component video cable with S/PDIF output

Accessories
As it has become a norm all of sudden for Cowon, the z2 and it's accessaries are packaged in eco-friendly cardboard boxes. Inside is a [white] usb cable, ac adapter, a pair of [Cowon SE2] earbuds, and manual.

Although the white usb cable is part of every Cowon Device now - despite if it's a black colored device, Cowon has finally tossed out their "standard" 34-pin proprietary cable they use in Korea supposedly. With that proprietary cable of the S9 and J3, we all had a sort of dread if we lost the thing as you'd be out of luck locally and could only buy it online. They have now opted a mini usb cable for the z2, a welcome change as I have a couple around the house already, don't care if I loose the cowon usb cable now. Thanks for that Cowon, you're learning I suppose.

While an AC adapter is something new to me as a prior D2, S9, and J3 owner - seeing as those devices had no ac adapter at all - I think they could have saved themselves a bit of money going with a usb AC Adapter. This is of course my opinion but they could keep the international aspect of being able to switch between prongs per region but having a micro usb cord and having an ac adapter with a micro plug seems redundant to me.

Now I haven't heard the pack in earbuds myself, but I know many who have heard them like dfkt from anythingbutipod's website who say they sound alright for those who don't have or want to upgrade to much better earbuds, iems, or headphones. It is though highly recommended like all Cowon device audiophiles and reviewers to seriously think about upgrading to something better to get the most out the Cowon device to fully enjoy the sound quality that it will provide. If you are short on cash might I suggest a better sounding starter earbuds that only cost $40 called the Yuin PK3's - I loved them when I had them.

Design, Hardware Features
With accessories not being much of anything to herald about, the design of the Cowon z2 is. Their intention of making their "Floating Design" is quite astonishing once you see it on a table, I had a couple people check out my device twice to make sure it wasn't being propped up. It's a very convincing illusion to cause a stir with anyone you meet who will honestly believe the thing is actually floating.

This works two fold as the design also allows it to comfortably sit in your hand unlike any other device I have held or particularly owned. What also helps is the rubberized unibody the z2 is encased in, dropping it is near impossible unless you really loosened your hand or are dropping it on purpose. In other words, you'll be happy to know that the rubberized body helps you grip on the device more firmly unlike the J3 and other device's which are in metal or plastic casings that felt a bit slippery to the touch due to aesthetics. For owners of the Cowon S9, your back panel is the material that is being used for the z2's unibody, so smile, Cowon's was thinking about ya.

We will round the sides of the device as it's alot more than normal Android MP3 players of this world. A multifunction On and off button is the norm of being able to not only turn on and off your device but it also locks it and turns off the screen for battery saving music listening as well as putting it into sleep mode if you like. Going to the right of the side of the device and you'll find a hole for the mic, please don't mistake as a reset hole as there is a couple button presses only need to do that function. On the very bottom is of course your headphone jack and a cover/ stand of sorts. Underneath the cover is a micro HDMI port for outputting the device to the TV, which is pretty great in outputting the device to your HDTV for big screen gaming or movie watching. Beside that is MicroSD slot that expands the devices memory even more, 64gb memory sticks are accepted after a reformat is done through the z2. The final port on this device though is what Cowon has finally blessed us with, a REAL standard usb port, a mini usb port to be exact - which the cord for it can be found at any electronics store like Best Buy and such.

With ports out the way, we finally come to the devices tactile button layout that is very different from other Android Devices and as a Cowon owner you should be proud that Cowon even bothered to think about us in regards to this as they could have simply did a copy and paste standard that other Android devices have. While a volume up and down is the norm on pretty much every Android Device, what is not are these:
  • A Rewind/ Previous track combo button
  • A Play/Pause/Music App open function combo button
  • A Fast Forward/ Next track combo button

Sounds like I'm making a bigger deal than they are, especially since those [Cowon added] buttons are tied into the music app but makes a big difference in changing this into a true mp3 player / Portable Media Player, a game changer if you will. With the z2, Cowon has now provided an android device that you no longer have to be solely dependant on a playlist or having to take the device out your pocket to change tracks or play and pause a song you are enjoying. You have full control of your music without even looking at the device now, something normal mp3 players achieve easily but not so much on other android or even Apple's devices. While not stopping there, the Play/pause button, while obvious in what it does, also redirects you to Cowon's default music app. For those who have not opted for a third party app, this is pretty convenient for us that do use Cowon's Default music app. You'll find out later through the software side of things you'll have to use the music app no matter what but for now we'll continue to the screen.

The front panel of the z2 has three touch sensitive button that most android devices have: the menu, Home, and back button. They have haptic feedback (or vibrates) to let you know you pressed them as they aren't lit like most Android devices, which is a bummer but I'm sure it would have drained the battery more on the z2, so Haptic feedback is enough at least to make me happy. Cowon has also decided to not deviate from their usual standard set since introducing the Cowon S9 and has provided the z2 with a scratch and impact resistant screen known as Guerilla Glass. Now the screen on the J3 and S9 were absolutely beautiful all thanks to Cowon swapping out their LCD screens that most devices use and went for the now recently new standard of Super AMOLED screens which are in RGB format. The thing is... this device shares the same Pentile AMOLED screen the D3 has and while still stunning, the D3 and z2 has some sub-pixel issues while the blacks and a few other colors are in a very different tone like for instance, black is more like a dark gray. Movies are still enjoyable to watch on the z2, especially with that kickstand helping out. Playing movies with really dark scenes - at least color wise - you'll notice right away that blacks aren't as deep as the J3 and S9. Not a deal breaker, just an adjustment you'll have to make if you are or were a S9 or J3 owner.The screen is of course capacitive btw for those who want to know, most of Cowon's recent premier devices have been for a while but just like the D3, it is multi-touch as well.

Although much praise can be said about the hardware, I do have a few other things that concerned me as negatives to an awesome device with the exclusion of the Pentile AMOLED I already mentioned above. For those who owned a D3, the z2 does NOT have two speakers on this device. The D3 had a mono speaker in the back and a voip calling speaker in the front - the z2 has the front speaker only, thus meaning that voip calling and audio listening are only coming out of one speaker which is in the front. May not mean much to the few of us but those who are upgrading from the D3 might find this a bit odd but probably was tossed out to save on battery life or maybe Cowon found it redundant to have two speakers as many Android devices only had one. I will say that the speaker is pretty loud though, much loader than the J3 and Apple devices. Also, in regards to sound, the z2 has it's audio playback tactile button's disable seven seconds after entering sleep mode and will upset alot of people as there is no option to stop this from happening or at least a bigger time limit. My guessing that this happens to avoid accidental button pressing while moving around which in turn will save on battery life. While we are at it, some people might not like the fact that just like the D3 the mini USB, micro HDMI, and microsd ports are covered up with Cowon's makeshift stand. Easy access sounds odd to say but some prefer that option on electronic devices, it's just something that hasn't changed for any of Cowon's devices.

The device is also sparse on features that are usually standard on all Android devices and instead rips the same page from it's brother, the D3. No camera, no GPS, no light sensor, and while an accelerometer is nice to have for screen orientations and some tilting gaming fun, some may see those three other things a deal breaker - especially at the price point Cowon is asking for. That means no Google Maps, No finding locations near you, no check-in's, No Google Sky, No QR Codes, no helpful auto-dims, the list could go on and on - this means a quarter of the functionality of what android normally provides is lost. People will have to evaluate whether Cowon's excellent sound quality, friendly community, and unique device designs are worth the price of admission.

Specs, Hardware
Well, It seems that Cowon has learned a thing or two from Apple by spinning specs like they are new on a device, when actuallity only a small spec bump has even happened. In other words, it seems the inside bits of the hardware of the z2 is almost the same as the D3. It has the same VPU [aka neon] that are both clocked at 799mhz (800mhz if you want to be picky), and are both using the Mali-200 at 320mhz. The differences that do present themselves is just that the available ram has been upped to 246mb [z2] compared to 173mb [D3], the CPU between the two has also changed but are both archaic. The D3 has a Telechips TCC8900 which is a ARM11/ARMv6 clocked at 720mhz while the z2 has an improved Telechips TCC8800 which is a ARM Cortex 8/ARMv7 clocked at 996mhz (again, 1ghz to be nice). The bump in cpu hardware on the z2 now fixes pretty much the overall slowness the d3 had - menus can be swiped between each other smoothly, the device loads up pretty fast even with lots of files and a SD card, and games and apps load up pretty instantly. So in other words, the z2 is much faster than the D3 and the more ram available to the user is a plus to enjoy the device even more.

I will forewarn everyone that when it comes to the internet surfing side of things, HD Streaming is out the question for the z2 though, it can't handle it, even struggles with HTML5 video (eurogamer [dot] net HATES the z2, crashes EVERY video that site has). If Cowon really wanted to keep the device on the cheap side in regards to having a component vs profit ratio, they could have kept the Cortex A8 but used a Allwinner chip with a Mali-400 gpu combo. The Cortex A9 Hummingbird would have been cheap to grab as well for Cowon yet I have no clue why either wasn't placed in the z2. Yes it runs decently with it's better CPU over the D3's crappy one but I also have to run on mobile versions on some of my favorite websites to run them well as some full blown websites just take too long to load. The default browser is the worst, Dolphin and Opera is highly recommended for use with the z2 to get any descent speed on your web browsing on the z2. You will still need to have Tubemate or some video download app to watch HD or HTML5 vids off the web. Surprisingly transferring HD videos to the device itself or watching High Quality versions of youtube videos runs quite well - which is very odd since streaming HD videos don't work well at all.

Speaking of video, despite the 800 x 480 display, Cowon does a great job at Hardware-Accelerated decoding of HD video or any video file under the sun as there are tons of codecs on this device that works on practically anything you have. The device lives up to the "FULL HD" label that is plastered on the back of the device as no conversion is needed at all to watch you video's. Just copy and paste the file on to the z2, even if it's a 1080p file, and it will run just fine. The D3 did the same thing and the z2 follows the same path, being able to watch your FULL HD video file with no problems.

While you are able to enjoy video files, you can also enjoy games on the device as well due to the some-what descent gpu, the Mali-200. 2d games like Angry games run pretty fine on the device, so fans of that series won't have to worry not getting their fix on killing some pigs. Cut the Rope fans should be relieved as well as pretty much no games that are too 3D intesive are highly playable like Sonic CD. Not that this means 3D games aren't playable, there are just a few games that may cause some framerate issues. Dead Space and Mass Effect Infiltrator for instance look and run great on the z2, NBA Jam and Fruit Ninja are very playable as well. Same goes to a pretty much any emulator you can get on Google Play - N64oid and FPSe runs great so you can get your Goldeneye and Crash Bandicoot gaming in. Being able to play Kings Quest 6 or the Monkey Island series on the z2 is pretty awesome through scummvm. For those curious, Onlive - a cloud gaming app, runs fine as long as you get all wireless bars across the z2 - it really isn't gpu or cpu dependant. Some games have issues though like Shadow Gun requires you to watch the movie sequences to run, and Gameloft games so far don't work on the device at all (besides Uno). While a few hiccups on a couple games may be off putting a little, alot games run well on the z2.

What also runs well is the upgraded wifi chip in the z2 over the outdated one in the D3, which the z2 now does 802.11 b/g/n. The D3 only did B and G, and with most N routers are taking over (with compatibility of b/g devices still), glad Cowon upgraded to get with the times. My speed connection is 20/ 2mbps, and the speedtest app says I'm getting 7.38mbps download/ 1.89mbps upload, which is great since I get almost all bars all the time.

I'm happy I can now enjoy a full bluetooth experience or profile if you will. As a prior J3 owner, the only benefit I saw on bluetooth was that it could connect a headset to the J3 wirelessly - which I and many others found convenient. What I didn't get was why did some owners of the J3 would belly ache about the J3 not being a 2.1+ device (it was a 2.0, that profile primarily only did audio streaming to other devices like sound equipment and wireless headset syncing) and not being able to send files between devices. I kept thinking to myself, isn't that what a USB is for, and at the time Bluetooth was pretty slow still. This was my mentality I had until I got this device , now I find the newly 2.1 a godsend. The z2's bluetooth is a 2.1 profile + EDR, which not only does audio streaming to other devices (A2DP) and headphone syncing (ACRCP) but also does file transfers to other media devices (OPP). Very convenient and a welcome upgrade as a prior J3 owner.


Android
Now we're going to shift this review from hardware to the software side of this device, If that's OK with you guys. For Those who already owned the z2 earlier than me, I've seen a few who wondered why Android ICS was not bothered to be put on the z2. It would have been nice right, since ICS is the newest playable Android OS - with custom roms and cheap Chinese device knockoffs with even more horrible specs than the z2 are running ICS, why not the z2 right. You know what I think? Android Gingerbread and Cowon's Plenue interface combo is great (you see what I did there , you can laugh and slap your knee). Just like Launcher Pro, the Plenue Interface that Cowon made makes swiping though menus and desktops smooth and easy, despite what the specs say.

Taking a tour of the screen, Near the bottom of the screen is a bar with loads of options and hidden customization that not alot of z2 owners might know about. At the far left corner is the Day and date, which when pressed brings up the Calender app by Cowon, which is pretty cool. The Task Manager Cowon made is near the middle of this bar and provides what is in a normal stand alone app you would get through a third party. Once pressing the taskmanager button a pop up a window shows what programs are running and allowing you to close whatever you want to free up any memory one at a time or all at once (you can even switch between apps if you like by holding your finger on any app there). It also displays what is installed on the device (and/or SD card if you got one), and finally on the far right side of this pop up shows what is the available ram and a single button that clears it up for more programs and smoothness of the device.

Closing the Task Manager, there is two icons on the far right side of the bar at the bottom of the screen. Tapping or swiping on the app drawer brings up Cowon's own icon set of apps that are the same as the D3, simple circles that are somewhat self explanatory. Music, video, picture, heck even a twitter icon along with a multitude of icons meaning something are present in the drawer and shows how Cowon wanted users to easily comprehend what the app is. Like most touch screen devices, if you wanted an app on one of your desktops, you simply hold the app inside the app drawer for a few seconds and the app drawer will automatically close to present the option to place the app anywhere on any desktop. Widgets are the same way and beside the app drawer is a convenient button to access them. Widgets to those who don't know are large on screen icons that pop up information like say twitter posts, or a small media player, or check out your pics without going into the app itself. Cowon has a couple that are unique like that gray and orange widget that tells time, a great mini music widget that allows me to go to the previous track or next, a picture widget that allows me to look through my pictures without going inside the app as well - may not mean much to a few people but will be a big help to others. Third party widgets can be installed on the z2 (as well as apps) and those widgets can be found in the Advanced Tab in the widgets screen. Not only can widgets and apps not made or tweaked by Cowon be installed on the device by sideloading via your sd microSD card but app stores work as well once installed on your z2.

Cowon must have recently got certified from Google finally for the Play Store so third party apps can be installed on the z2 officially now , as before hand you had to root your z2 (while voiding your warranty) and hack the Play Store to work on the z2. Cowon saw that as a problem in having to go through hoops to get the Google store to work, so I'm guessing they tried their hardest to get certified for the Google Play Store. It's still not in the z2 device initially but If you go on anythingbutipod (dot com) or iaudiophile (dot net), you'll find a thread in the forums portion of those websites from an actual Cowon employee with the files needed for it to work and easy instructions in how to install it.

Those who are curious over if the alternative stores like the Amazon App Store and 1 Mobile Market work on the z2 should fret not. For example, The 1 Mobile Market was a free alternative to Google Play Market and is one of the official ways to get Google Voice Search to be installed on the z2 (otherwise side loading the app would have worked as well as the Google Play Store just won't install the app due to incompatibility?) I highly recommend installing the Amazon App Store on the z2 if you can as it is the only app store that does daily free apps that you would normally have to pay for. For instance, I'm currently typing up this review with Office Suite Pro 6 which costs $15 but Amazon had out it for free one day. Sure there are plenty of free apps on either store with sales constantly happening often but at least Amazon has a free app or game daily.

Seeing as those store software works on the z2, you would think our talk earlier about the bar at the bottom of the screen would be complete but I'm not sure alot of z2 owners might know of a secret they hid inside there. Sliding the widgets button and to the left reveals a hidden department allowing you to put nine apps inside. You can put your most used apps or least used apps, apps you don't want people to see, practically anything, Cowon gives you that choice. I would highly advise not putting apps there that have been moved to your sd card via the apps2SD app (or moved to the sdcard by yourself.) Reason I say this is that when you restart your device (or if the z2 crashes, which it does sometimes), the icons of the apps you have on your SD get forgotten to be refreshed unless you like nine androids staring at you then it's not a problem as the apps still function.

Your Cowon z2's other functions that are hidden to the normal user doesn't stop there. Pinching to zoom out on the main desktops brings all the desktops screens to you for quick access to any one (through the settings screen you can go up to nine desktops if you like). Also, even though the bottom bar was touched upon earlier, the top bar is equally important as it's also known as the notification bar. It houses not only your notifications in small text up top but also in a more detailed view once you slide it to the bottom of your screen. Just like the D3, once you do this (sliding the notification bar to the bottom of the screen) you are presented with four icons up top that turn off or on of the wifi and bluetooth, a way to clean up the ram with one button, and a sleep button (a sleep button is kinda redundant as you can already do this by just pressing the power button on the top of the z2 twice.)

Might as well talk about the Menu and Home sensitive touch buttons on the bottom of the z2 having an additional function besides what is easily obvious. Holding down the Home button brings up a menu showing the last apps you used and holding down the menu button brings up a small menu that gives you 6 icons. Going from the top, the Add button pops widgets, Folders, shortcuts and evens allows you to change wallpapers - this add function can also be done if you hold your finger anywhere on any of the desktops. A wallpaper icon is right next to the Add icon which seems like another redundant move by Cowon but maybe it's to allow the user easy access to it without going through so many menu's. Beside the Wallpaper icon is a search icon, which searches anything on the device or even the web - it can be even more helpful to the user is if they had installed Google Voice Search so that typing is not even needed and just telling the device what you are looking for through your voice will be all that is needed.

The last three icons inside that popup menu are a Manage Apps icon, Home Settings icon, and Settings itself for advance tweaking - all these provide an easy access to settings and customization to the user. Manage Apps icon allows you to well... manage your apps, whether that's to clear data, Force Close an app acting up, or move the app to SD or back to the z2's internal memory itself, you also get the option to remove updates or uninstall the app itself. Home Settings icon was sorta already touched upon but it allows you to set how many desktops you want and what screen you want as the default Home screen. The final icon, the Settings, allows you to tweak practically everything about the device like languages, Keyboards, wifi, brightness, the list could go on for a while. Long time Android users feel at home tweaking away in this [advanced] settings menu but First time Android users might feel overwhelmed with how much Android allows the user to tweak around with. With time, these new users will come to grips with Androids advanced settings and come to a point that not enough options are available to the user - that's when rooting and custom rom's eventually come into play but will not be delved upon in this review as this is about the Cowon z2, not about android's deep rabbit hole most go down.

Audio, Music app
What does run deep inside the Cowon z2 though is something that permeates in all Cowon's device's. It is the sound quality and BBE+ sound enhancements provided in ONLY Cowon devices that are unrivaled by any other device maker. Cowon devices are known as the cream of the crop of portable audio devices and is held in high regards to being the best sounding devices your money can buy. Often times, that is often stated why Cowon's devices cost a little more than the rest. With the z2, Cowon has literally done it again with one of the best sounding devices I've owned!

This is probably due to what Cowon normally grabs for their hardware, usually a Wolfson DAC. Cowon obviously know's that is the best sound chip you can put inside a device and other device makers have come to grips with the same idea recently. Funny thing is, Cowon must have bought a particular one in a massive bulk as the C2, X7, i10, J3, and the D3 - all of which are using the WM8960G. Seeing how Cowon didn't bother to change much when it came between the hardware specs of the D3 and z2, despite the bump in processor and ram, I'm confident to say that the z2 is also using the Wolfson WM8960G. Is this a bad thing? Well the smile on my face and tickle in my ears would say no. There is a saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and obviously Cowon has found a sound chip they personally like and probably works well with with their BBE+ sound enhancements.

Knowing Cowon, usually with the newest device of theirs, BBE often gets an upgrade and thus the z2 brings along Jeteffects 5. The newest tweaks by Cowon make your music and anything with sound - sound even more fantastic! 48 presets are now available to the user and of course there is a 5 band equalizer but Cowon also has four user presets for you to play with like usual to tweak the sound to your liking. Cowon though took it a step further and bled it's jeteffects into other apps, games, music, movies and well pretty much the rest of the device. This helps raise the volume on practically every app that'll come on the device and even fixes the pops and crackles that often go hand in hand with most Android devices or at least the z2 and even enhances the sound quality due to bbe +, you'll agree that the z2 is the best sounding device you'll have in a very long time. Like most Cowon offerings, the z2 practically plays any audio file you throw at it too btw. Oh, and most z2 owners don't know this but you must have the music app open in the background or at least the mic app to have the Volume and crackle fixes by Cowon through their BBE and what they are calling their Lossless Mixer. Most of the time though, the Music app is forced to run anyway (check your Task Manager to see and be sure), so no worries to those who are wondering.

Speaking of the Music App, Cowon kept that thing simple, tweaking what looks like Google Music and making it their own. Cowon tried to add every little setting and option they could for the user to play with. Beside the small album art you are first greeted with, there are four icons beside that representing the lyrics tab, the a-b function, bookmarking your music (great for podcasts), and your music's browser ui. The browser ui is nothing to write home about as it somewhat easy to navigate and there is a sort feature at the bottom for those who don't like folder sorting. It sorts by folder, artist, genre, song, bookmarks, and by album [art] as well. You can also search for your music as well by pressing the z2's menu button and look up whatever you like. Often though I wish I could transfer over the excellent Leaf 2 UI made by Kizune, as swiping between screens is a lot better then pressing tiny buttons (folders) to go back a few files.

Back to the music app, Usual offerings like the progress bar and on screen media buttons to control your music are located near the bottom of the music apps main screen, as well as a speed icon to determine how fast or slow you want your music to be. The Musics tracks info (track name, album, Artist) is right below the small album cover along with a cool elapse time clock that is using the same overlapping styling done in Cowon's Lock screen. Also, even though I keep mentioning a small album cover, Cowon Did implement a visually striking large background overlay of the album cover and changes according to what you may be listening to at the time. Side note, while listening to your music through the music app, you get an accessible mini music player that allows you to play/pause, rewind/Fastforward, and next/previous track button in the lock screen itself through a pull down menu, very handy if you already turned your z2 on to check the time.

More options are given to the user by pressing the cog icon on the bottom left of the music app. Once pressed, it slides in another settings bar giving you access to shuffle, what kind of repeat mode you want, if you want all folders/ one folder/ or the song itself to fit your repeat or shuffle modes you set. Cowon's famous jeteffects are also found lastly in this bar as well.

It also seems Cowon is a fan of Kizune's work, as turning the z2 sideways so you can hold the z2 with two hands transforms the music app into a landscape mode that is very reminiscent of Kizune's recent music apps landscape (albeit without sliding album covers). Kizune's way was to hide the semi-functional/broken coverflow Cowon made for the S9, J3, and x7.

That doesn't mean the coverflow is gone, it's just hidden in the z2 touch sensitive menu button (of course when inside the music app). After pressing it, a pop up menu will show you six icons you can interact with. You got another way to access your music browser, setting a song as a ringtone, adding a bookmark, a way to fiddle with the music apps preferences like hardware buttons and sleep mode, a share button, and finally the coverflow button. Borrowing the same coverflow system found in the D3, it's a semi-circle of sorts showing all the albums on the device. It's a bit slow to load up the cover art for the albums but also pretty smooth once they do. Selecting an album spins it around to show the track list, something similar to El Maco's Turntable coverflow music app.

It's very functional but I personally won't use it as it still doesn't have an option to allow the user to sort by not just album. I would really love to see artist sorting or folder sorting but I don't know if that will ever happen.

While we are nitpicking the music app, that just like the D3, Playlist functionality is not present at all within the music app or z2 itself. Bummer for some but in order to enjoy playlists, you must use a third party app like PowerAmp or Rockbox. Large full screen album cover art would have been nice too. Overall though, the music app will suit a lot people's needs, you'll be enjoying your music more than other device owners anyway.

Would like to put some food for thought, that the z2 seems to be not outputting enough power to run 150ohm headphones. My Yuin PK1's require the device to be at 35+ or more to get adequate volume, so a portable headphone amp will be required for users with headphones like mine (150ohm), a Fiio E5 (~$20) will be enough and suffice. Then you can set your volume below 25, which in turn saves on battery life. May not seem out of the ordinary for 150ohm headphones requiring a headphone amp but my Cowon J3 had enough power to run my Yuin PK1's just fine.

Battery Life
I can't say good things about the power of the battery coming from a D2, S9, and then a J3. Maybe it's just how Android devices are or maybe how wifi enabled devices are - have no idea. Could be the unknown battery size in the z2 or could be the extreme amounts of heat seeping out the device to the point that you could possibly burn your hands or cook an egg. I'm not kidding, it's a problem that the D3 had and Cowon just didn't bother to fix. I think this is the very reason why the battery life is so low.

Is the battery or device heat just normal? I mean maybe since the z2 is covered in a rubber like substance for it's unibody that it conducts heat faster than other devices or at least it spreads in a broader area. I just never experienced this in a MP3 or PMP player I've owned. Yes, my Tablet has a bit of heat but my tablet has a Quad-core in it with a Tegra 3 GPU but the heat does not reach to the point that I have to stop what I'm doing to cool down the thing, which for the z2 I have to. Whenever you are surfing the internet, watching a video, playing a game, using the SD Cart, the heat from the device or battery gets super hot. The only positive is I could be doing all that at night and if it's super cold outside at least I know my hands would be warm.

Joking or not really joking aside, the battery life on this thing was judged by mean using four tests, the results are below.
  • Video Playback, default App, Lowest Brightness, Volume 25, No wifi, Movie Title - iamoled [looped] : 7 Hours 20 minutes
  • Music Playback, default App, Screen Off, Volume 25, No Wifi, 128kbps, Song title Lovers and Friends from iaudio [Looped] : 20hrs 15minutes
  • Streaming Audio Playback 1, xiialive App, Screen off, Volume 25, Juice Defender Ultimate Disabled, 128kbps, Groove Salad Station : 10hrs 35 minutes
  • Streaming Audio Playback 2, xiialive App, Screen Off, Volume 25, Juice Defender Ultimate Enabled, 128kbps, Groove Salad Station : 14hrs 10 minutes

Am I happy with those battery life results, well to put bluntly it feels like I downgraded and rightfully I have. Maybe this is the norm to have as I blame Cowon for spoiling me with high battery life devices prior to getting the z2, I just don't know. It's ok, I'll just be treating my z2 like a mini tablet. My full sized 10" Tablet lasts only 18hrs, so maybe I should be grateful than my z2 lasts even longer. I knew certain tradeoffs would have to be made going to a wifi enabled mp3 player and battery life was going to be what I would most likely going to sacrifice, I'll just have to plug in my z2 every night like my cell phone (J3 lasted several days before having to charge so a big change for me). I would highly suggest a battery saver app like Juice Defender to help increase your battery life on the z2, I've seen a significant bump in battery life plus the ultimate version only costs $5. With that said, battery life is still good enough to enjoy the z2 long enough daily.

Conclusion
Let's be realistic though, I really didn't expect high end stuff inside the device and what there is inside is passable for what Cowon had their sights on what to do with the z2. Can it stream shoutcast radio fine? Yes. Can it do local radio stations over wifi? Yes. Can it do Podcasts streams and downloads? Yes. Can it do Pandora and music streams through apps like that? Yes. What about RSS feeds and email? Yes. Social apps like Facebook and Twitter work right? Yes. Can you sift through your pictures and watch your video files you put on the device? Yes. How about checking the weather and listening to good Cowon sound quality through your music? Yes. Youtube and games are playable on the z2? Yes. Well then... looks like Cowon has successfully made a good, workable Android MP3/PMP player for the Cowon Fans.

I really hope that despite all the criticism that I had in this review, I hope I was able to help you guys understand that this is still a good device by Cowon. Is it their best one yet, well that is up to interpretation and who you ask. Does it fix most of the issues found in the D3, yes - so as a Cowon fan who wants to dip your toes in a now fully embraced internet connected world but still want that great Cowon Sound quality, the z2 should satisfy your need. Despite it's flaws I really love the z2, the sound quality on this thing is amazing and the convenience of not having to lug around my tablet to check my social apps, surf the web a bit, and watch a few youtube apps is a plus in my book. I can now do all that, earphones on, and still enjoy my time with my family - only needing to pop out the z2 from my pocket whenever I want and wherever I want conveniently. The Cowon z2 is at least their best second try at having a Android device and hope more are to come for me to try and test out. For now, I'll just continue to enjoy my z2 and hope you guys liked my review!

Pro's
  • Excellent Sound Quality unrivaled by other device makers
  • Jet Effects has been upgraded to 5.0, sounds enhancements sound even better
  • 48 Presets, 4 User Presets
  • Plays practically any music format well
  • Same goes for video, any video file can be played, even 1080p - meaning no conversions are needed
  • Exceptional Design, Floating Design really makes it look like it is on flat surfaces and allows device to fit in hand comfortably
  • Rubberized Unibody casing help with grip on device
  • More Ram is an improvement over previous model - the Cowon D3
  • Upgraded CPU is faster than Previous Model - The Cowon D3
  • Great Plenue UI mixed with Android Gingerbread allows for a smooth user experience
  • Alot of buttons are on the device including 6 hardware buttons, 3 Touch sensitive buttons
  • Mostly all button's on the z2 are multi-functional , holding and pressing any of them do not do the same thing, some open apps
  • USB no longer Proprietary - now using mini usb
  • A Micro HDMI port is provided on the z2, something rarely seen on any device of this size
  • MicroSD slot still a great addition to the device unlike the S9 was, 64GB MicroSD cards accepted after reformatting with the z2
  • On screen Task bar hides 9 available app slots by sliding the widget icon to the left, very handy on various levels
  • 9 Desktops available to the user
  • 3rd Party apps and widgets are accepted via side-loading or Third Party store apps like Amazon.
  • Google Store is now able to be installed officially but offsite
  • Mali Gpu is still good enough to run some intensive games & emu's well like Dead Space, Mass Effect Infiltrator, N64oid, FPSe
  • Speaker is pretty loud compared to other devices like Apple
  • Beautiful 3.7" AMOLED Display, Capacitive Touch screen
  • Glad Gorilla Glass still is being used in Cowon Devices including the z2
  • Sleek looking Music App and 3D Semi-circle Coverflow
  • Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR is great!
  • Wifi Reception fantastic with support of wireless b/g/n 2.4ghz
  • Z2 port cover can be used as a stand for easy propping up for movies especially
  • Haptic feedback on almost everything if you like.

Cons
  • AMOLED Screen is Pentile, Color's don't pop as well as J3 and S9 due to the way the pixels are set, saves battery life though
  • Short Battery Life compared to Cowon's non-wifi enabled devices, to be expected? Third party battery saver app suggested...
  • Battery or Devices get uncomfortably hot often to the point of you needing to stop what your doing before you burn your hands
  • Small spec bump expected from Apple, not Cowon. CPU and ram moderately upgrade above the D3's, everything else spec wise the same between the z2 and D3.
  • Wish default Music App had larger Cover art and more sorting options to the Coverflow area.
  • Music app or Mic App must be running in the background to fix audio issues in other 3rd party apps
  • HD Video Streaming and heavy HTML5 video broken no matter what browser you use (Firmware related?)
  • Gingerbread and not ICS may upset some
  • Price a bit steep compared to the other single core Android competition who have much better internal hardware, camera's (x2), GPS, and light sensor at $100+ less
  • Not enough power output for 150ohm headphones, the J3 and S9 did
  • Touch sensitive buttons don't light up like other Android devices, battery savings?
  • Default Browser sucks, third party app suggested...
  • When not playing music, putting the device to sleep disables hardware buttons within 7 seconds, no options to disable or change the length of time for the device to do this (on/off button still works)

P.S. I have Pictures of the Device at various angles and such, even further benchmark test pictures with Antutu and Quadrant, will post sometime this week like my Video Review. Thanks for your patience and coming back to check out my thread!
__________________
Prior MP3 Player | Cowon J3 32gb w/ 32gb Memory Stick
Current MP3 Player | Cowon z2 32gb w/ 64gb Memory Stick
Accessaries | Yuin PK1 150ohm Earbuds w/ Fiio E5 Portable Amp

Last edited by da1writer; 07-02-2012 at 01:16 AM.
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  #2  
Old 07-02-2012, 12:57 AM
da1writer da1writer is offline
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Reserved for Video Review and other Video's soon to come for the z2
__________________
Prior MP3 Player | Cowon J3 32gb w/ 32gb Memory Stick
Current MP3 Player | Cowon z2 32gb w/ 64gb Memory Stick
Accessaries | Yuin PK1 150ohm Earbuds w/ Fiio E5 Portable Amp
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  #3  
Old 03-02-2013, 06:49 PM
dzjc dzjc is offline
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Any video reviews?
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Old 04-05-2013, 12:43 AM
Resiak Resiak is offline
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da1writer...That is probably the best review of any gizmo I have ever read. Man...you did some work there and thanks a lot.
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  #5  
Old 08-15-2013, 10:38 AM
Mauro Mauro is offline
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Any news from anyone who has a contact in/to Cowon regarding a replacement to the J3/Z2?
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