The Cowon S9 (16GB) is the first touch-screen MP3 player of the new year and it stacks up against the Apple iPod Touch quite nicely. It offers some excellent features, including great audio quality, an OLED touch-screen, lightweight design, and a great user interface.
The dimensions of the Cowon S9 measure about 3.75x4.25-inches and in total, it weighs around 2.5 ounces, which is very light for an MP3 player and almost half the weight of the latest iPod Touch model. The whole front face of the device is covered in a clear plastic that is very scratch-resistant and the back is a dark colored plastic surface, which hides a lot of the fingerprints and smudges you would expect on a similar device. Along the bottom edge of the Cowon S9, there's a power/hold switch, a 20-pin USB jack similar to cell phones, and a standard headphone jack. On the top edge, there's a skip track button and a volume switch as well.
The 3.3-inch touch screen is an OLED screen instead of a traditional LCD display, which we like very much. The quality of the 480x272 resolution screen is very vibrant and looks very good at any viewing angle. The touch sensitivity seems just about right and works nicely, just as nice as the iPod Touch/iPhone. The OLED allows for a thinner design due to the lack of a need for a backlight and lesser battery power consumption.
The user interface on the Cowon S9 is certainly one of its strong selling points. The menu area is very well-laid out and looks quite nice. The menu items are spaced out appropriately and there are page transitions between screens that polish it off nicely. The interface is also very responsive to user action with the touch screen, which is crucial to any MP3 player, especially one with a touch interface.
The feature set of the Cowon S9 is quite large and overtakes the iPod Touch in a few places. Specifically, it has Bluetooth audio, an FM radio w/ recording, voice recording, a text reader, and a Flash media player for gaming. It has a leg up over the iPod Touch in terms of having built-in Bluetooth and an FM radio, which is a frequent complaint from iPod users. However, the Cowon S9 is not Internet-enabled, which means you won't be surfing the Internet from it like you can the iPod Touch. There is also an accelerometer similar to the iPod Touch/iPhone, so you can tilt the device horizontally and it will automatically re-orient the screen to show different features/functionality depending on what you are currently doing. If tilt it while playing a song, the familiar album cover flow will appear just like on the iPod Touch.
The Cowon S9 supports a very large range of video and audio formats, which is pretty standard on newer MP3 players such as this one. It supports MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, APE, and FLAC audio formats. The video formats include MPEG-4, WMV, DivX, and XviD. It is worth mentioning that it does lack support for H.264 files, which are becoming more popular with podcasts and other online video. There is a built in podcast software called MyPodder, which automatically downloads new podcast episodes to your computer and syncs it when you connect the S9 to your computer.
As we mentioned before, the Cowon S9 includes an FM radio with recording capabilities. You can record FM radio directly to WMA files, which is a huge plus over the iPod Touch all together. There is also the ability to set presets for your favorite radio stations as well.
To sync with your computer, you can use the included Cowon Media Player (aka: Jetaudio), but it isn't the best of software to use. You can use other popular media players to sync with the S9, including Windows Media Player and Winamp. It is also Windows and Mac supported, so that's of no concern.
The Bluetooth connectivity is built in as we said and is an added feature that the iPod Touch doesn't have. You can pair any Bluetooth headset pretty easily and it works quite nicely. Keep in mind that you cannot use the microphone feature of your Bluetooth headset at all, even for voice recording.
The sound quality of the Cowon S9 is very good and comparable to the iPod Touch and other high-end MP3 players that are popular today. It also has BBE sound enhancement, which adds more depth to the audio by way of several equalizer settings that are completely customizable. Video quality on the screen is fantastic and has excellent pixel response time due to the OLED screen. The rechargeable battery inside the S9 will last about 50 hours for audio and 12 hours for video.