Cowon iAudio 7
At a Glance
Cowon iAudio 7
This tiny unit plays and records plenty of media types, but suffers from funky controls and a microscopic screen.
The Cowon iAudio 7 is a compact, Flash-based player that measures just 3 inches long by 1.4 inches wide (but a chunky 0.7 inches thick), and it weighs only 2.1 ounces. Its tiny 1.3-inch TFT LCD screen responds more quickly than the OLED display of its predecessor, the iAudio 6, so video motion appears smoother, but it's hard to imagine why you'd want to watch any sort of action on a screen the size of a postage stamp.
You hold the iAudio 7 lengthways to view the screen while operating the quirky touch-sensitive controls with your right thumb. I couldn't get used to scrolling through lists with the slider. Even after reducing the sensitivity from the settings menu, I still triggered seemingly random operations just by picking up the player gingerly by its edges, while at other times my intentional gestures met with no response.
PC World tested a production 4GB model with attractive black-and-silver styling. It costs $170, but you can also pick up a cool black-and-red version with 8GB of storage for $220. A unit with 16GB capacity is in the works, says Cowon. The device's audio quality earned a rating of only Fair in the PC World Test Center's evaluation. The included earbuds are adequate (our tests measure audio quality directly from the headphone jack rather than from the earbuds), but you'll still want to ditch them for a better pair.
Besides playing a variety of audio, video, and image types, the iAudio 7 has a built-in FM radio. Reception was reasonable for such a small unit. You can record from the radio (including scheduled recordings), the integrated microphone, or the line input. The player comes with the company's Cowon Media Center software, but it also works with Windows Media Player for loading music from your collection. It's compatible with Microsoft's PlaysForSure digital rights management system for subscriptions and purchases from a variety of online music stores. You charge the lithium ion battery through the same USB cable you use for downloading media.
Despite its middling audio quality, the Cowon iAudio 7 works well for listening to songs and the radio, and for making occasional audio recordings, but it's too small for video, and you should see if you can master its peculiar controls at a local store before you buy.