The world of portable video has much in common with the music jukebox market. Just as Apple sits haughtily above its MP3 foes, so French company Archos rightly dominates the PMP scene.

This is no bad thing: it means us gadgeteers can ignore what the masses are pocketing, and search for a plucky underdog to back. And no dog is more overlooked than that of Cowon, maker of a charming new player called the D2.  

Small wonder

The D2 has much in common with iRiver’s wonderful U10. Both players are weeny – the Cowon is marginally taller and wider – and come in 2GB and 4GB flavours. They also initially seem way too small to watch video on, but the D2 is deceptive: its screen is the same size as an iPod’s, with space saved by the inclusion of a touch-screen.

This is where the D2 really differs from the U10, whose ‘D-Click’ system conceals buttons in the screen’s frame. The touchscreen works well enough, but there is one downside: Cowon has tethered the guitar pick-esque stylus to one corner with a piece of elastic. Not exactly beautiful.

All if forgiven, though, when you see the quality of the screen. Like the U10, it’s a QVGA number, but is capable of displaying 16 million colours and playing 30 fps video. In short, it’s really quite special.

Fussy eater

Getting music and video onto the D2 could be easier. It doesn’t yet support PlaysForSure music stores – although a rumoured firmware upgrade should sort this out – and the supplied software is a bit fussy. Another piece of bundled software called JetAudio will, though, convert any video files you have into the right size and format for the D2, and automatically upload them.

From here, the D2 is a fine performer. The sound output is detailed – there are roughly a million graphic equaliser options if you’re not happy – and very loud at 74mw, making it ideal for big cans. Video is very watchable on the vibrant screen, and there’s also a TV out for hooking it up to your big screen.

That’s far from the end of your options, though. There’s a photo viewer, a voice recorder and an FM radio, although this struggles for reception on some stations. Struggling for storage? Just bung a miniSD card into the slot and you can double the memory to 8GB. The battery life is also insanely good, stretching to around 50 hours for music.

The D2 may lack the charm and originality of the iRiver U10, but its treasure chest of options make it a much more versatile mini video player. Once it sorts out its PlaysForSure compatibility and gets its 8GB version in a few months, it’ll be odds-on for five Stuff stars.

Use it with…

Stuff Essentials – In-ear headphones

Stuff says... 

Cowon iAudio D2 review

An astoundingly versatile little player and a genuine threat for the iRiver U10. Only some poor design choices and compatibility issues hold it back from pocket domination