What do I do with my crappy, broken iAudio 7?

So after my saga with Cowon regarding my broken iAudio 7, they mailed it back to me.

At first I had great plans to install Ubuntu on it and use that to occasionally boot up instead of Xandros on my Eee PC. But that didn’t really work. And I still find even eeeXubuntu to require too much tweaking to get working anyway.

Then I thought of maybe taking it apart and trying to take out the LCD screen, but it seems as if the screen crack has gotten worse while at Cowon. And I don’t have a screwdriver that small that’s also a Phillips-head.

Perhaps it should be 4 GB of storage for random stuff I want to back up? Wouldn’t I have to keep it refrigerated to keep the battery from eventually draining to the point of being useless, thus making my data irretrievable? What do I do with this piece of junk?

Well, one thing’s for sure: getting it back reminded me how terrible my Cowon experience has been and reassured me that I should just stick with Sandisk.

Music I Like Ubuntu

Goodbye, Cowon; Hello again, Sandisk

My Cowon iAudio 7 crapped out on me after three months. I’m extremely disappointed, since both “official” (CNET and the like) and user reviews for it appear to all be positive. Well, I’m sorry to say that my experience is not. So either I happened to have the fluke lemon unit, or other people are lying.

Yes, there are things I still like about it, even now. The battery life is unmatched by anything else on the market. Officially, it’s supposed to be 60 hours. I’ve never timed it, but I use my player extensively during my commute, and one charge on the iAudio 7 easily lasts a month. It’s a cute size and shape. It can play many formats, although that’s become less of a concern for me since I’ve given up on Ogg and gone back to MP3.

Nevertheless, I can’t say I’ve had an overall positive experience with it over the last three months. The controls were very difficult to figure out and get used to—they are also too sensitive to the touch, especially when I’m trying to skip songs instead of fast-forward. Initially, skipping songs even took two or three seconds to complete, until I did a firmware upgrade.

Sad, garbled Cowon screen This last straw is the screen suddenly crapping out on me. I didn’t drop, crush, or abuse the player in any way, but there appears to be a diagonal crack on the inside (not the outside) of the screen that corrupts the display to the point of being unusable.

I contacted Cowon’s support, and they said they can’t determine if it’s covered by warranty or not until they examine the device. Now they want me to mail it in (at my own expense!). I’m not sure yet whether I think it’s worth the trouble to do so or not. I’ve already bought a new MP3 player (a Sandisk Sansa Clip), and it appears to be much better (simple controls that aren’t too sensitive) for a much cheaper price. And I’ve used Sandisk before; my old Sandisk player lasted me years before breaking. If I did get it fixed, it would be just to see if they’d admit they had shoddy workmanship and cover it under the warranty or blame me even though I didn’t do anything to break it; and then I could just give it away to someone who didn’t mind sensitive controls. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m back to Sandisk and still confused as to why Cowon gets such rave reviews.

Update: I did mail it in, and they said it wasn’t covered under warranty, and I would have to pay US$57 to replace the LCD screen. No thanks. That money was better spent on my Sansa Clip.

Further Reading
Cowon iAudio 7 Review (Ubuntu perspective)
Cowon iAudio 7 Review Addendum

Linux Music I Like Ubuntu

Cowon iAudio 7 Review Addendum

Last week, I wrote a review of the Cowon iAudio 7 player, which I had just received. Now that I’ve used it for a week, I have a few things to add.

In the past week of using the Cowon iAudio 7, I’ve discovered:

  • There are absolutely no PDF manuals online explaining how to use the iAudio 7. If you buy this player, be prepared to do some serious trial and error to figure out its day to day functions. Only really basic functions (play/pause, skip to the next track) are intuitive. Everything else makes no sense.
  • As an example, I found out that, contrary to what I’d said in my last review, that you can manually assign radio station presets (you are not stuck with autoscan), but I found it completely by accident. First, you make sure not to do the autoscan. Then, go to the radio and browse to a station you want. Then, press the menu button once. Then, tap and hold for less than a second the play/pause button. A little context menu will appear, and then select to assign it to that preset channel spot. Sound confusing? It is!
  • I’d read a couple of places online that browsing by ID3 tags (instead of by folder) worked only for MP3s, not Oggs. No one mentioned that if you enable it when you have Oggs and you’ve also enabled autoplay (meaning that the player will immediately start playing music when you turn it on) that the player will just freeze up completely. So that was definitely an experiment gone sour. I could not reset it with the reset button. I had to plug it in to my computer and erase every file and then reload the firmware to get it working again. Needless to say, I’m sticking with browsing by folder.
  • Even though the controls are sensitive, you can adjust the sensitivity, and it took me about two days to get used to how much pressure I should apply in order to skip a song and not fast-forward two seconds. Frankly, I think there should be a way to disable fast-forward altogether. I never want to fast-forward. I only want to skip or stay.
  • The battery life is good. I still haven’t had 60 hours of listening to time to test the manufacturer’s claims, but I’ve listened to it for probably about 7 or 8 hours with nary a bar in the battery meter disappearing.
  • Radio reception is great. I listen to the radio every morning on the way to work, and it’s crystal clear all the way (on my old Sandisk, there were patches of fuzzy sound).

In summary, I’d say my main draws to this player (and why I’ll probably be sticking with it, despite its bugs) are its size, its price, its ability to play Ogg, its battery life, and its inclusion of a radio. There are some serious bugs, though, that I think Cowon should work on (Does Cowon take bug reports or customer feedback? Anyone know?). With controls as sophisticated as the player has, a detailed manual is a must-have. And touch-sensitive controls may sound cool, but they’re really annoying when you are worried you’ll accidentally skip to the next song or pause—stick to regular buttons, folks.

That about sums it up for me. More on battery life later.

Edit (3 January 2008): The last bar finally went out on my iAudio 7’s battery. It lasted a little over a month. I didn’t time the exact hours, but I don’t think it was 60 hours. 60 hours is probably what they test on using the radio exclusively with the display off and continuously until the battery runs out. My guess is that it was probably closer to 50 hours. Nevertheless, that’s a pretty impressive battery life!

Computers Music I Like

Cowon iAudio 7 Review (Ubuntu perspective)

A little backstory
Last week, my 256 MB Sandisk player died. I really liked that player. It was ugly, and it didn’t support free formats, but it was functional and small.

So I did quite a bit of online research on a replacement player. There were a few things I was looking for in a new player:

  • Relatively cheap (nothing over US$200)
  • FM radio
  • Not terrible looking
  • Long battery life
  • Linux compatibility
  • Support for open formats

My search brought me eventually to the Cowon iAudio 7, which fit all of those criteria. It was quite a bit pricier than my cheap Sandisk had been, but it was still under $200; it had an FM radio, and most reviews said the reception was pretty good; it didn’t look too bad in the pictures; its battery life is supposedly 60 hours; the Cowon website prominently includes Linux compatibility in the description (Linux kernel v2.2 or higher (data transfer only); and it supports both Ogg and FLAC.

First Impressions
Well, it arrived yesterday, and immediately my wife remarked that it was “cute” and I agreed with her. Despite most online reviews complaining about the iAudio 7 being too thick, I was surprised at how small it is. Yes, it isn’t as slim as the iPod Nano, but it isn’t a giant monster either. It’s more like a box than a flap, that’s all—a very small box, though. I was a little disappointed to see that the packaging did not list Linux under the system requirements’ operating systems (only Windows and Mac), considering Cowon makes no bones about mentioning Linux support on its website.

The Quick Guide that comes with it is quick indeed! It basically tells you nothing. It has pictures of the included parts (headphones, USB cord, player) and labels all the buttons (menu, play/stop, hold switch, etc.), and that’s about it. There is no manual explaining how to use the iAudio 7, and I couldn’t find one at the Cowon website either. Most of the reviews online (CNET, anythingbutipod, Amazon, NewEgg) gave me the impression that the controls were not intuitive but also not too hard to pick up. As a matter of fact, the controls make almost no sense. When you’re in the menus, Play/Pause goes forward (that makes sense) and Record goes back (that makes no sense). I accidentally enter Record mode while I was browsing the menus and started recording, but I didn’t know how to stop. I paused, of course, but there was no way for me to stop—I just pressed a bunch of buttons in the hopes of something working. One of the buttons got me back to playing music, but I had no assurance that I wasn’t simultaneously recording something at the same time. If someone can point me to a PDF manual (or even a website) explaining the iAudio 7 controls, I would be much appreciative.

Loading songs on to the iAudio 7 is easy. You plug it in, and it’s drag-and-drop. It has a bunch of top-level folders (I deleted the movie folder, as I’m pretty sure I won’t be watching movies on the one-inch screen) for text files, pictures, and music. I dragged about 4 GB of music into the MUSIC folder, and the transfer was fairly quick (USB 2.0, I assume). To test out the Ogg support, I redownloaded Mel’s Hey Girl album from Jamendo as Ogg instead of MP3. That worked out well. I’m slowly moving myself over to Ogg from MP3. It’s a nice free feeling.

I haven’t had a chance yet to test whether or not it lasts 60 hours, but I listened to it for about two hours and the battery meter hasn’t budged. I’ll update this review later with my iAudio 7 battery life experience. There is an annoying little bit with charging—you don’t know when it’s done unless you unplug the player. I’m assuming that once it runs out I can leave it in for about three or fours and it’ll charge. We’ll see. The only other minor bone I have to pick with the charging is the little flap that you open to get the USB cord in—it’s a little hard to open and doesn’t open very gracefully. If you have long fingernails (I don’t), it shouldn’t be a problem, though.

In terms of actual use (apart from the controls not making any sense), the playback is good. I’m no audiophile, but it sounds good to me, clearer than my Sandisk did using the same headphones. By the way, the headphones that come with the iAudio 7 are fine for normal people like me (not those who claim they can hear the difference between CD quality and 192 bitrate MP3). I prefer my own headphones, though, just for physical comfort.

The navigation is a bit annoying. When you try to press the Next button, if you don’t press it exactly the right way, the iAudio 7 decides you want to fast-forward instead of skip to the next song. It also took about three seconds to skip from one song to the next. That’s a long time to switch between songs. Granted, I had almost 4 GB of music together in one folder, but the player is a 4 GB player and should be designed to accommodate that kind of capacity. I upgraded the firmware in the player, and the three-second pause went away, but… A) the firmware upgrade was available as of September, so why didn’t they include it in the player I bought? Maybe it’s been sitting on the warehouse for almost three months. Who knows? B) There is absolutely no warning on the Cowon America website that the firmware upgrade will erase any music and preferences you have. The instructions just tell you to unzip the archive and copy it to the iAudio 7 and then restart the player.

One last note about the FM Radio: it sounds good (my Sandisk player had problems getting good reception for a couple of radio stations I listen to), but you don’t have the option to set your own presets, as far as I can tell. You can have the iAudio 7 scan the stations for the ones with the strongest signals, and then you’re stuck with those unless you manually tune without presets.

Summary Review
The Cowon iAudio 7 is a solid choice for those looking for a cute player that is definitely Linux compatible (no need for MTP plugins) and supports Ogg and FLAC music formats. The sound is good. The FM signal is strong. I definitely recommend a firmware upgrade the minute you open the thing (before you put any music on it), and if anyone knows how to make the controls make sense, please let me know! It has its kinks to be worked out, but maybe those will be taken care of in future firmware upgrades.

Further Reading
Cowon iAudio 7 Review Addendum
Goodbye, Cowon; Hello again, Sandisk