Low End Theory

Coby vs. jWIN: The Reckoning


By Brendan I. Koerner

The Coke and Pepsi of the low-end electronics universe, Coby and jWIN have become simply unavoidable as of late. Both have aggressively wheedled their way into myriad drugstores, discount warehouses, and shady depots that peddle both tube socks and faux Discmen. Lord knows that half the gadget shops in and around New York's Garment District would lose half their inventories should these two titans of cheap ever cease to exist.

So ubiquitous are these two skinflint faves that no one's bothered to ask the elephant-in-the-room question: Which one's better? Try as I might, I could find no head-to-head comparisons of equally spec'd Coby and jWIN products—tech journos, it seems, regard the brands in much the same way that Marie Antoinette regarded unkempt peasants. But Low End Theory feels no compunctions about dirtying its hands with cheap merchandise—heck, that's our whole reason for existing, is it not?

Therefore, after the jump, we're gonna offer up the scoop on three low-end deathmatches. Will it be Coby or jWIN that experiences the thrill of victory? Only those with the temerity to click the "MORE" link will know for sure.

As a quick prelude, let me head off potential objections from Coby and jWIN employees/fans by granting this: Both brands have been doing their darndest to make forays into pricier electronics. On the rare occasions that one of the companies' executives pops up in the trade press, it's usually to brag about the phat-yet-inexpensive LCD TVs they're rocking nowadays. And, hey, I can understand that—everyone wants to be seen as cutting edge rather than dowdy. But the fact remains that the low-end meccas of the world—starting with my beloved Gem Gem Gem Value Store on 125th Street—don't sell LCD TVs. They make their gadget cream off alarm clocks and cordless phones, and they sure do love them some Coby and jWIN.

Besides, this column is, and always will be, about products that us short-armed-but-deep-pocketed types can afford without feeling the pangs of buyer's remorse. So I kept the focus tight on gizmos that can be had for less than the price of a set of shock-inducing RC tanks. I feel your cheapness, yo:

Alarm Clocks I selected two projection clocks, the Coby CR-A78 versus the jWIN JL-705. The Coby certainly wins on price, selling for an average of $6 less than its opponent. The specs are almost identical, and the design is really a matter of taste—Coby's designers (okay, the dudes who work at their contract factory somewhere in Guangdong) seem to favor cleaner lines and less ornamentation, while jWIN is all about the blue and shiny metallic dials. It's a close call, but I'm going to hand this one to Coby, based mostly on the compactness of the projection unit—the jWIN clock is too eerily reminiscent of one of those droids who gets tortured on Jabba the Hutt's barge in Return of the Jedi. (Note: Please, no hate mail. Yes, I know that RotJ sucked, and that the Ewoks deserve a special place in Hell.)

MP3 Players A face-off between two 256 MB Flash players here—Coby's MP-C841 against the jWIN JX-MP130FM. The former unit can be had for a good $20 less if you snoop around online, but the jWIN clearly wins out on features this time around, starting with the addition of an FM tuner. The jWIN also has line-in recording and USB 2.0 compatibility; the Coby may have the latter, but the spec sheet sure doesn't mention it. Hands down a winner for jWIN, despite the steeper price tag. Even in the low-end realm, sometimes it's worth the extra scratch to ensure that you won't end up kicking yourself for being such a miserable miser.

Portable B&W TVs Ai'ight, the tiebreaker: the Coby CX-TV1 goes up against its nemesis, the jWIN JV-TV1010. The Coby averages about $5 cheaper to start, though you're also losing half-an-inch of screen size—let's call it a draw on that score, then. The specs are basically identical, right down to the three power-source options; heck, their web folks even used matching simulated pictures featuring fake football players. The controls, meanwhile, as so similar to make me suspect these TVs rolled off the same exact Far East assembly line. It comes down, then, to maneuverability, and the jWIN noses ahead in this regard. It appears to have the capacity for a little up-and-down swivel, and it's also got slightly more manageable dimensions—a godsend if you're taking this out on the lake. I'm thus gonna call this a point for jWIN, though the contest could scarcely be closer, and I admit that I wasn't able to get test units into the lab for hands-on experimentation. Anyone own both these TVs? If so, drop me a line and lemme know if I misjudged this.

Low End Theory

So,when all's said and done, jWIN wins this one by the barest of margins. I think the basic rule of thumb is that Coby generally wins on price, but that jWIN's designers add just enough zazz to justify their products' higher costs. Then again, if I went back and looked at another three head-to-heads, I might come up with entirely different results. Of course, no one likes wishy-washy journalism of that nature, now, do they? I will, then, shout this decisively from the rooftops: jWIN is emperor of the low-end universe.

Let that be a challenge unto you, Coby. Not to mention Sungale, Anergé, or whoever else dreams of donning the championship belt and earning my everlasting love. You know you want it.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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