You asked for it and here it is, a hands-on with the Cowon Q5. We spent quite a bit of time going through it and, unfortunately for all the fans, we have to tell you that it's absolutely craptastic. On paper it looks great, but in reality it feels like a mash-up of features with a confusing interface and jerky feedback. Full impressions and mega-gallery after the jump.
The unit felt solid in our hands but heavy for a 40GB unit —that's the unit we tried. which will be $500 in the US. As you probably know, this Personal Media Player promises to be all you need in your digital life, mixing multimedia, Internet, wireless connectivity, HSDPA, DVR, GPS on a Windows CE package with a 800 by 480 pixel 5-inch touchscreen.
And there's precisely where it fails first in a miserably. The touchscreen implementation is rough at best. First, it requires a stylus to operate because the interface elements are too small and not designed for finger operation. In fact, we were offered a mouse to operate it repeatedly, which could be connected to one of its USB ports. We decided to try with the included stylus instead.
Their specialized interface application, which sits on top of the normal Windows CE interface and could be skinned, is divided in two columns. The left one shows the main functions (example: multimedia) while the one on the right side shows its sub-functions (example: movies, music...), which change depending on your left selection. It sounds good, but it doesn't feel good. at the end of the day, it still requires you to hit the icon with the stylus and hit it well.
As you can see in the video, we found ourselves clicking desperately to get it to react to our input. We also saw the other part of the touch interface when we looked at their picture player. By sliding your finger over the screen, the images changed. Again, it sounds good but it feels terrible. The sliding is only a gesture with no real interaction with the interface except triggering the image change. It doesn't make the images scroll or flow across the screen like you could expect.
The dedicated user interfaces for each function were also bad —a cocktail of columns and boxes which not only weren't intuitive, but almost got us dizzy with the amount of text and colors. Again, the response of the user interface here was atrocious. In the video you can see me trying to play a movie by clicking on it, as it is supposed to work. This worked erratically —for us and the Cowon representative— and most of the time you were forced to click the "play" button on the side —which is not much more reliable either.
Once in action, the movie, the images and movies quality were ok. They look fine in the screen, but it's certainly not top quality. In fact, the whole unit felt cheap despite its price, thanks to the bland design and the quality of the screen.
You also have the possibility to leave the dedicated media interface and get into Windows CE. The speed once you were in that mode was not good at all. Maybe I'm spoiled by how instantaneous everything feels on a normal desktop, but the fact is that today being small is no longer an excuse to be slow and unresponsive. This is clearly demonstrated by devices like the iPhone.
Bottom line: a want-to-be-all device that fails short on everything and feels dated even before reaching the streets.