keeping life simple in a world of complicated gadgets

One caveat to progress and technology and gadgets is the way one’s habits need to change and adjust to conform to the gadget’s purpose or build. Some of my most satisfying purchases, however, are gadgets which are suited to my already-existing habits.

Received my new toy this week, a Cowon A3 80GB portable media player (PMP). This is basically a competitor to things like the Creative Zen or iTouch. It has inferior management interfaces, playlisting, and no touchscreen, but it has a far superior ability to play a vast assortment of media formats with no fuss, and is dead simple to manage on any system capable of recognizing a USB removable drive (yay I can manage it from Linux!).

Connecting the Cowon – Umm, plug it into a powered USB slot. Wait for the OS to recognize and mount it (or mount it if your OS needs a poke). That’s it, no drivers or software needed, even on Windows. This was really by far my biggest reason to purchase the Cowon, and I’m absolutely satisfied with it.

Music Philosophy – My music needs are less mainstream these days. I’m getting old and as such I am pretty biased against DRM-related media. I am fine with throwing away tangible products (CD discs) and keeping my media digital-only, but I don’t want someone or something else managing my access to that media. Screw that! Therefore, using things like iTunes or DRM-friendly devices is really not an option for me.

Music Organization – The Cowon shows up on a computer as a removable drive with some default folders (MOVIES, MUSIC, PHOTOS…). Drag-n-drop folders/files onto the device, and that’s it! Playback either plays every music file it finds, limits itself to the top level folder the song being played shows up in, or to a subfolder. This fits with how I manage my music quite perfectly. I have about 40GB of mp3 files all categorized in just one of 6 folders based on rough genres (hard rock, lighter rock, trance, chill, etc). So basically when I listen to my music, I choose everything in folder “3” and shuffle through it. That’s it! Which basically means the simplicity of the Cowon is exactly fitted to my use. No fancy playlists or tagging or organization by year, artist, album, and so on. And to populate the device with changes, I just plug it into any of my systems, mount my mp3 share, drag-n-drop whole folders, and walk away.

There are limited playlist functions, but I have not delved into them deeply. If I want to listen to just one album, I can add the 13 files to an on-the-fly playlist in the Cowon and limit playback to that. I’ve played with managing playlists on my previous ipod but really found extremely limited need: only had playlists for workout music and car music when I want the windows down and the bass up. I’m just not too concerned with playlists and managing them. Simplify, simplify…

Movies – Initially I copied 4 different types of video files to my Cowon (avi, mpeg, divx…) and every file played immediately. I’m still trying to find a format that I can rip a DVD to that will play, but I think that is not a limitation on the Cowon so much as my limited knowledge on formats and digital ripping. 🙂 I’m using VLC to copy the stream to usable files, and will find the right combination eventually. Oddly, I had it on my first try, then decided to get cute and up the quality, at which point I then lost track of what I did initially…


  • Stop? – I haven’t figured out how to stop a movie file from playing, short of starting up something else or powering off the device. Not a big deal, but still a weird problem. You know, in thinking about it, really why would I ever want to stop a media file without starting up something else instead? Do I want the device to sit doing nothing while turned on and eating batteries? This might in fact be a curiously well thought out setup!
  • Joystick – Pressing the joystick inward gets ragged on a lot in tech reviews, but I think many people don’t realize you rarely need to actually press the joy down. If you’re on a folder, you can press it right, and it will drill down. Highlight a file, press right, and a context menu appears with Play highlighted by default. Press right again and it plays.
  • No stand – I’m only slightly annoyed there is no stand to keep the player face upright or tilted towards me during the day.
  • Bulky – It’s a bit bulky, but for 80GB I really can’t be picky. It still fits in my pocket if I want it to, but I am well aware this device is going to mostly be in my backpack, on my desk, or sitting nearby while I relax. Not when I’m walking or mobile or running. I am not one of those people who needs my own soundtrack playing through my headphones while I walk to the mailbox.


  • – When plugging the USB cable in the first time, be sure to use the correct USB slot on the Cowon. I spent 20 minutes using 3 systems before I realized my computer-to-Cowon USB connection was plugged into the wrong USB slot on the Cowon (use the one nearest the power jack). The other USB input is to plug other USB devices into the Cowon like a digital camera (an uplink).