It plays to its strengths

GADGET of the week

MP3 players are a bit like cars; there are a lot of them, essentially all doing the same job. The question is whether you'd rather drive a Ford Focus or a Ferrari? Cowon is more like the latter. It's a brand you've probably not heard of before, but in its native South Korea, sells more MP3 players than Apple does iPods.

There's no getting away from the fact that the Cowon S9 is a fine-looking piece of technology. It features one of the world's first 16 million colour 3.3in widescreen AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) screens. Without getting too techie, this means that you can use the screen in almost direct sunlight (so it's great for holidays in the heat), with a huge viewing angle (ideal for showing photos) and an ultra-high refresh rate (perfect for watching films).

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The S9 is similar to the iPod Touch in that it features a capacitive touch screen and a built-in gravity sensor, with the menu system auto-rotating depending on which way you hold it. Ultimately, these bells and whistles are nice, but it's music that matters. The Cowon S9 is one of the best-sounding MP3 players I have listened to.

There are two reasons for this; it has extremely powerful sound output of 60mW (most players are around 30mW) and supports uncompressed music formats such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). This means that sound quality is equal to that of a CD.

And with a massive 16GB of memory (around 3,000 tracks), 40 hours battery life and Bluetooth wireless headphone support, the S9 has brawn to go with its beauty.

So should you swap your iPod for a Cowon S9? If you want the best music and video quality – yes. If you're an iTunes fanatic, the lack of iTunes support could make converting a bit less appealing.

However, there are an increasing number of online music stores which are competing with iTunes, such as and, offering large ranges of copyright-free MP3 files.

For more information on the Cowon S9 8GB and 16GB MP3 players, visit Pricing is still to be confirmed, but should start from 149, with a UK release expected later this month.

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