As the next player in the “i series” of player the i9 takes on a different form factor in a slim candy bar player with touch screen and tactile buttons. This size makes it so much more comfortable compared to its i6 and i7 siblings. There are also incremental improvements in UI and features. So if you have previously dismissed the i6 and i7, you might want to take a look at this new player.
- Quick Look
- Dimensions: 43mm x 95mm x 8.9mm
- Weight: 40g
- Colors: Black, White Silver, Red
- Capacities: 4GB, 8GB, 16GB
- MSRP: $??, $130, $170
- Screen: 2” 320×240 262k Colors
- Battery Charge Time: 1h40m
- Batter Life: 7h Video, 29h Audio
- Audio File Support: MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, APE, WAV
- Recording Format: WMA
- Video File Support: Xvid, WMV – Subtitle Support – SMI
- Other File Support: JPG, TXT, Flash
- Features: Built-In Speaker, FM Radio/Recording, Voice Recording, BBE+, EQ
- Controls: Touch Capacitive
- Transfer Protocol: MTP and MSC (User Selectable)
Inside the Fancy Box and Accessories
Just the basics are in the box: earphones, USB cable, and manual. Cowon has an optional TV out cable which you can buy for around $10. Third party manufactures also make cases for the i9 if you are looking for a little protection. The downside here is that Cowon used a proprietary USB connection on the bottom so you will have to carry an extra cable and in trouble if you misplace it. I really wish that Cowon had put the video out in the 3.5mm jack and used a standard mini-USB that all phone manufactures have agreed to use. For me it’s frustrating to carry an extra cable.
One quick thing to note is the fancy box that the i9 comes in. Cowon wanted to jump on the green bandwagon and multi-purpose the packaging. The package the i9 comes in is more of a display case or trophy, with the player gracefully hovering within the packaging. Honestly, I sometimes put the player back in the case when I’m not using it just to display it on my shelf. If you aren’t as much of a show off as I am, Cowon intends for you to re-purpose the plastic case to be used as a pen holder and it does work fantastically well.
Build Quality and Design
The iAudio 9’s outside housing is made entirely out of a hard matte plastic, it is scratch resistant and more or less fingerprint proof. The screen on the other hand is made of a glass composite, likely Corning’s Gorrila Glass, but will still show fingerprints like any other glass screen. The materials and overall feel of the device is very monolithic- materials flow well together and where they meet the tolerances are uniform. The build of the device is very sturdy with a nice weight- not too heavy not too light.
The screen is a standard 320×240 pixel, 262k color, LCD screen. The colors are great, the response times look good, and viewing angles are better than most at near 180 degrees. Of screens of this size you can’t really ask for more- the LCD used in this application is pretty much at its maturation point. Sure, you might be able to squeeze a little bit better or higher resolution screen such as an OLED- it would be overkill for very little gain. In other words, it’s a great screen and you will most likely be pleased.
Cowon UIs have always been my biggest complaint about their players. They are getting better but the i9 still feels awkward to me- not so intuitive. I’m a UI whore and dissect every screen transition and button press so you should take my dislike with a grain of salt. Many forum members and Cowon fans see no problem with the UIs- but do mention that there is a slight learning curve.
This is in line with my real world testing by giving the i9 to a typical user and watching them operate it. Most stumble around at first but eventually figure it out. So with that said keep in mind that you may need some time to wrap your head around the navigation if you have never used a Cowon player before. However you will find similarly easy to use compared to other devices after spending some quality time with your i9.
The controls are a hybrid of touch and tactile buttons. On the left are two tactile buttons for volume up and down and on the is a button for the menu and a slide switch for on/off/hold. As previously mentioned, the tolerances and tactile response is just right, common to most Cowon players. The one complaint I do have with this is that the buttons are not high enough on the side. It is a little bit awkward to hold and press with one hand. With the buttons move almost all the way to the top, it would have much more comfortable.
The bottom of the glass screen is graced with touch controls. These controls include a back button at the top left, a pause/play button at the bottom right, and a sli
der button bisecting the two at a diagonal. This button layout is similar to the early i6 and i7 and work similarly. This is by far improved over the previous versions though- touch is more accurate and the larger area makes it much easier than before.
One really cool thing Cowon did on the main menu with the touch slider was to make it respond one-to-one between the slider and the onscreen menu. The menu is not continuous and will stop at the last icon when your finger is at the top of the menu, so this means that you can access all menu icons with a single swipe back and forth. You don’t have to drag and lift your finger several times to get to all the menu items.
Cowon includes a software application that allows you to sync your media, but to be honest I don’t find it to be anything special and is more on the verge of buggy software. Every time I get a new Cowon player I install the latest version and it usually gives me nothing but troubles. Its awkward software and you are better off using a different media player to sync your files.
However, you don’t have to use any software since the player is MSC as well as MTP- so simply dragging and dropping files onto your player will work just fine. If you do want to have a media player manager your software you can switch it to MTP to use Windows Media Player or any other MTP based media player. The choice is all yours.
The i9 will also allow you to sync Audible content. To use .aa files on the player you will need to download the Audible application to load these files.
The battery is rated at 29 hours for audio and 7 hours for video. I did a test on the audio and found it to be at least 24 hrs, likely reaching close to the 29 rated hours. Video fell a bit short at around 5 to 7 hours, but seemed to fluctuate quite a bit depending on the encode rate.
On the main Library browsing screen you will be able to select: Now Playing, Folder, Artist, Album, Songs, Genre, Years, New Music, Playlists, Audible, recordings. It is nice that you have the option to view your collection by metadata or by folder.
With a long press on the play/pause button within the home music library screen brings up a submenu that will allow you to toggle between the main list, bookmarks, and favorites list (this acts as your on the go play list). A long press on this button while you have content selected allows you to bookmark it, add it to the favorites list, or delete it. Adding a bookmark in the aforementioned way will only add a bookmark at the beginning of the selected song, if you want to add it in the middle of a song you will need to do a long press while on the now playing screen. Additionally the submenu on the now playing screen gives you quick access to the speed of the playback, info displayed on the now playing screen, shuffle/repeat, EQ, and add favorites.
This is the part of the UI that is most awkward to me, you will get used to where everything is but right off the bat it’s not too intuitive and rather complex. How I would improve this would require an entire article, throwing out the UI and starting fresh. Again, I want to mention that I’m a UI whore and think about this kind of stuff a lot, it may not be as big of a deal to others. But I do caution that it may not be good for MP3 player noobs.
Lyrics: Like previous players, the i9 supports lyrics. This requires you to use the JetAudio software that comes with the player. It would be nice if they would write this information to the tag and or use the tag information for the lyrics. Currently the software will find the lyrics in a database and play them back onscreen while you are listening. Works great for popular music but if you start to get more toward the tail end indie stuff you will be hard pressed to find lyrics in the database.
Bookmarks/Playlists: As previously mentioned, you can create one to go playlist and bookmarks directly on the player. You can still add many playlists with any MTP based media player or with the JetAudio software.
Sound Quality / EQ Effects / BBE+: Sound quality is exactly what you would expect from Cowon, top of the class, warm, and well balanced. The EQ is 5 bands with the ability to change the frequency cut-offs and width of the boost just like previous Cowon players. Cowon has pretty much nailed the EQ- there is nothing I can think of that I would want to change. It is by far the most tweakable and most suited for the audiophile.
Just as all other Cowon players have BBE so does the i9. For those who don’t know BBE is a sound enhancement that uses algorithms to process your music to make it sound better. Better may be subjective, but I do find BBE to be the most natural sounding enhancement and bests other enhancements such as SRS WOW.
There are quite a few other sound adjusting features that are worth mentioning since not all MP3 players have them. These features include play speed and pitch correction, which is great for podcasts and audiobooks, and balance to adjust the left and right volumes.
Video playback looks great in the high density 2” LCD screen, but the really big story is that the i9 will play back native files under DVD resolution. This means that your torrented content will play without any conversion, just drag and drop it. Well done Cowon.
Flash Games & Apps
The player has support for Flash Lite just as many previous Cowon and Samsung players do, so there are a lot of games and apps out there. Some of the apps and games may work for the i9 that also work for these previous players, but do keep in mind that apps built for touchscreen players are not as likely to work since the i9 does not have a touch screen. You will have to dig though the available games and apps and give them a try.
Not much has changed in displaying and browsing photos. It’s still the basic thumbnail browsing and slideshow. One thing to mention is that you can do a long press on the pause/play to add the photo to the background on the main menu. It will only add the photo to one of the two main screens, the one with the clock and the menu items at the bottom.
On the bottom left of the front of the player is a tiny speaker. It is pretty much what you would expect from a speaker that is only a few millimeters in diameter- its only something you can hear with it a few feet from your face in a quiet room. Some might say this is wasted space, however, I always like a speaker for quick previewing of music, listening to podcasts, and viewing videos. Since this is a great player for playing Xvid natively, the built-in speaker is a plus in my book.
The microphone is located right below the volume buttons on the left side of the player. The volume of this mic can be adjusted in the setting making it easier to record in different settings. The file format is WMA and can be adjusted from 32kbps to 256kbps. The voice recording works as advertised and is not much different performance wise compared to previous Cowon players and other brands.
The radio works well, the reception is great, but do keep in mind if you are using different headphones that your results may vary since the headphones act as the antenna. Auto programming picks up every available station, but is a little overly sensitive and will add some static stations to your program list so you will have to do some editing after programming. On the long press you can change your region, select mono or stereo, and start recording. FM recording is the same as voice recording in that it’s WMA and will record 32kbps to 256kbps.
Text documents in .txt format are readable on the i9. The features are fairly extensive with the ability to change the font size, change the text and background color, add bookmarks, and change pages automatically.
I still find the UI a bit
awkward and it will take most first time Cowon users a bit to get used to, but the UI is taking some baby steps on improvements. I guess one of my major complains though is the proprietary connection and odd video cable that accompanies it. I would really like to see the micro-USB phone manufactures have agreed upon as a standard and video out built into the 3.5mm audio jack.
The complaints are outweighed by the long lineage of Cowon players and their extensive features and sound quality. The fact that Cowon has added support for native Xvid in this small category of players is huge and a real time saver.
Cowon has certainly done a great job with the i9 and I do believe it to be one of their bests to date.
- Native Xvid support
- Sound Quality
- EQ / BBE+
- Solid Design / Great Build Quality
- Proprietary USB
- Somewhat Awkward UI
- Video Out Not Though 3.5mm Jack