The Cowon Q5W

The Cowon Q5W is a portable media player with a stunning 5-inch touch-screen display and built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. I tested a model with an internal 40GB hard drive that sells for a hefty $550 (as of 12/19/2007). A 60GB version is also available, but even that could offer too little storage if you want to carry a lot of video.

For an extra $200, you can add an optional GPS-navigation-enabled docking station. The player slots into the dock, which then plugs into your car cigarette lighter and uses an FM transmitter to speak driving directions (and, if desired, play music) through the car radio.The screen nearly fills the whole front of the device, which is only 0.8 inch thick and measures 5.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall. It feels surprisingly heavy, but it’s easy enough to tote in a coat pocket or a purse. The only physical controls are the on/off switch and volume buttons. Using the touch-screen interface, however, you can make light work of everyday tasks, such as listening to music, tuning the built-in FM radio, and watching video. Mostly you use your thumbs to browse the menus, occasionally tapping selections with a finger. You can also use the small included stylus (stored in the edge of the player) for greater accuracy or for more complex tasks, such as selecting from a long list of MP3s. 

For more detailed operations, you exit Cowon’s user-interface shell and use the player’s outdated Windows CE 5.0 operating system (Windows CE 6.0 has been out for more than a year). Unfortunately, this includes tasks you’ll want to do often, such as surfing the Web in Internet Explorer, setting up Wi-Fi, copying files over the network, and copying files to/from USB devices. Here you definitely need the stylus for selecting items in tiny dialog boxes and typing on the virtual keyboard. 

Video looked impressively sharp and colorful on the 800-by-400-pixel display, especially when I played wide-screen-format DivX-encoded movies. Motion was very smooth, and the picture was visible from a wide angle. The device scored poorly in our lab audio tests, and the included earbuds are basic at best–though with some adjustment of the on-screen graphic equalizer, I was able to get acceptable sound through my own headphones. You can record voice notes with the built-in microphone, but the player lacks the ability to capture video as a DVR can (and as the rival Archos 605 WiFi can); the Q5W also cannot record from the FM tuner (a common function in audio players with built-in FM tuners, including Cowon’s own iAudio 7). 

I hooked up the Q5W to the component inputs on my HDTV using the included cable (which also provides a lower-quality composite connection for older TVs). Picture quality was good–similar to that of a standard DVD–and the digital audio sounded great through my receiver. For watching across the room, Cowon supplies a small infrared remote control, but the scant documentation (a short printed Quick Guide and an inadequate user guide on the software CD) neglects to explain how to use it. Learning how to work the menus took me some time, and certain buttons remain a mystery. It doesn’t help that some operations are a little sluggish, so determining whether a button push has had any effect is often difficult. 

The Q5W has a USB miniport for syncing with a PC (using Windows Media Player, Windows Explorer, or the supplied Cowon Media Center software). The second USB port should be a hit with photographers, because it lets you archive images from a digital camera, and it allows you to transfer files to and from a USB thumb drive. The device lacks any sort of media card slot, though. 

The Cowon Q5W works well enough for listening to music and watching video, but you’ll need patience and some technical savvy to achieve more complex tasks, such as loading content over a secure wireless network. While the player has much potential, it feels less refined than the cheaper Archos 605 WiFi.

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