So similar in shape and appearance to Creative's Zen Vision W that the initial impulse is to presume they're the same, the Cowon's is entirely its own entity.
Yet while the Zen might superficially give off a more of dedicated movie player vibe, the A2 is the one that actually touts more features for the dedicated moviephile.
During video playback, mastering the slightly silly interface - more on that later - brings up options to resize the video exactly as you want, rather than the usual arbitrary stretch/zoom/mangle until a film in another aspect ratio fills the entire screen.
Multiple audio tracks and embedded subtitles are supported should your video file have them. You can even take a screenshot of the video with a couple of button presses.
It's the kind of stuff that's generally only seen in a piece of desktop playback software. While the many-tentacled nature of the Archos players means they're the ones that scoop the overall geek vote, this is the one for people who demand absolute control over their portable viewing.
The screen visits the same halfway house as the Zen and PSP, stopping somewhat shy of DVD resolution at 480 x 272. It's a shame that it couldn't go all the way, but it's a pixel count that's nevertheless fairly easy on the eye, especially on the Cowon's bright, glossy screen. Uploading files is a simple matter of drag and drop (or, optionally, syncing in Windows Media Player), and this has the best-in-show battery life for video playback.
As tricky as ABC
Under the hood then, it's an impressive piece of kit. It's what's on the surface that's the problem. It's a little bland-looking although palatable enough in the design stakes, but unfortunately the controls and interface are all over the place.
The buttons consist of a minute directional pad that's so cramped that pulling Right to skip forward will often instead activate, say, Down to decrease volume. Clicking the stupidly tiny centre nubbin to pause can pause it for a millisecond, then almost immediately resume play with the volume louder and the video moved forward by a few seconds.
And the four main buttons are labelled Back, A, B and C. The latter three change function depending on what you're doing, so you'll never quite be sure exactly what they do without checking what the tooltips on the screen are saying.
The onscreen interface can, optionally, be transformed into an occasionally elegant OSX clone of sorts, but once you get past the main menu it's a case of fairly clunky folder browsers. Music suffers particularly: the device can read metatags as it displays album, artist details and cover art during playback, but doesn't enable you to browse through a collection in anything other than alphabetical file/folder name order.
Features like an FM radio and video in/out make it a pleasingly multi-faceted device, but they're all quite basic in their implementation. This is best thought of as a pure movie player; for music however, look elsewhere.