The Cowon iAudio U2 has been my standard all-around digital device for the last 5 years. Prior to that it was an Archos Jukebox 20GB recorder. The iAudio U2 is small, has a nice long battery life, and handles lots of music. The most important feature is that it can do voice recordings or line-in recordings from an external microphone. I have 3 microphones I use with it for various situations, and this device pretty much works with any of the mics. Whether you want to gather conversations, auditorium lectures, sermons, or loud music in a bar, you can do it all with the right microphone.
Price: 2 – $100 – How can this basic device (which would be just another music player without the 1/8″ line-in) still cost $100 even after they stopped making it? But I review it as the standard to beat, terrible price not-withstanding.
Audio Recordings: 8 overall.
Voice recordings (built-in mic): 5 this has average quality sound.
Line-in recordings: 8 – depends on your microphone. But for ease of use, this guy is good. But I am picky here and I would say it takes some explaining on how to use the recorder, if you don’t read english. There’s a 1-second delay between pressing record and actually starting, unlike other devices. And often 1-sec is too much when I am making a mad dash to record in-the-moment. So I want faster, cheaper, easier software here.
Memory: 3 (1GB) doubles as a flash drive via mini USB 2.0 port. A bit slower on transfer than full USB 2.0 devices.
Simplicity: 5 – it’s medium complexity and the limited buttons can make navigating through directories and menu options confusing. At the same time, it only has 2 buttons and a joystick – so it won’t intimidate anyone who is new to electronics.
Look and feel: 5 – takes about 10 seconds to boot. I expect faster responses in such a simple device. UI cannot be changed much. It does have some pretty useful adjustments for recording that are not on simpler models, however.
Other features: FM radio + FM recorder. Antenna here is poor. I lose signal in elevators often, and any radio will beat this one. The battery life is pretty good – I charge mine twice a week via USB and bike commute to work listening to the radio every day.
Overall: 5 – I would give this to someone in a poor country and no computer skills to use, but they would need to mess around with it first before everyone worked seemlessly for audio recordings.