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Old 06-16-2008, 05:14   #1
sir_tonyx
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Smile Archos 605 WIFI vs A2/A3 (from a longtime A2 user)

I've been using a Cowon A2 20GB PMP for two years now and although I love it, the 20GB capacity is getting kind of small. in anticipation of a summer vacation I thought I'd buy a more roomy alternative and the current top choices for this seem to be the Cowon A3 (with up to 80 GB) and Archos 605 WIFI (with up to 160 GB capacities). looking at the specs of Cowon A3, it seemed like it was a carbon copy of the A2, except for the higher resolution screen and bigger capacity. but looking at the Archos 605 - touch screen, WIFI, internet browser, fancy user interface. I thought I'd opt for a bit more variety than just more resolutions, so I went and bought the Archos 605 WIFI 160 GB. here are my thoughts on the device, especially compared to my trusty Cowon A2. since the Cowon A3 pretty much identical to the A2 (except for the resolution and capacity), you can treat this as a comparison to A3 as well.


autonomy and battery power

the Archos 605 lasted for 4 hours 20 minutes playing a video on a loop. adding the battery pack and doing the test again gave result of 7 hours and 40 minutes (but note the impracticality of the battery pack in another section).

Cowon A2: I've been using the Cowon A2 for two years now and I guess it started at somewhere at around 7 hours. anyway, Cowon is known for its fantastic battery autonomy. after two years of use, it clocked in at 4 hours 50 minutes against the Archos looping the same video.


recharging and battery pack

I heard horros stories of Archos recharging for 10 or 12 hours. no surprise though, because without the battery pack the Archos charges from the USB port only. a simple math exercise will reveal, that charging the 5000 mAh battery of the archos using 500 mA of the USB port does indeed take about 10 hours. that's not very good, so I bought the battery pack along with the main unit, which reduces charging time to about 5 hours (since the battery pack is charged from the mains unit with a 1A charge).

using the battery pack however the whole charging setup looks bulky and ridiculous. the battery pack is like a fish out of water when connected to the underside of the Archos. it sticks forward and to the side and looks like it might fall off at any moment.

furthermore, it looks like you can't run the unit continuously while charging it as you'd expect. when I ran down the internal battery of the archos and connected the battery pack, I was expecting to get some extra running time for the unit. not so. turns out the archos is unable to run from the battery pack when the internal battery is dead and it is also unable to run (NB! and I mean run, not charge) from a regular usb charger or even a car usb charger when the internal battery is dead.

apparently the internal battery, when the unit is being used, discharges faster than the battery pack is able to charge it, so unless you start using the battery pack while the internal battery is still full, you won't really be able to use the battery pack that much. unless you want to have the unsightly pack connected to the player for the whole time, the only use for the pack is letting it recharge the internal battery while you're NOT using the player. at least the pack also adds AV out, the USB host feature and faster mains charging to the archos, but as a stand-alone battery pack it is more or less useless.

contrast this to the Cowon A2. all you have to do is connect the charger to the unit (like 99% of all other devices in the world) and it'll charge it AND run simultaneously - for as long as you want. no bulky charging setups and without being run down while you use it. a nearly hours autonomy time for the Archos using the battery pack is nice and all, but in all other aspects I think Archos has completely dropped the ball here when it comes to managing charging and powering the unit.


startup speed:

the Archos 605 takes 34 seconds from a complete shutdown and only a few seconds from suspend mode, but I'm not sure how smart that suspend mode is. from what I've heard, it is a drain on the batteries and they will run dry in about a week in suspend mode even if you don't use the player during that time time all. so my preferred method of shutting down is a complete shut-down, but then it takes over half a minute to resume operation.

Cowon A2 has a speedy 7 second startup and 16 seconds with movie playback automatically resumed (and that's from the equivalent of a complete shutdown of the Archos 605, not some fake battery-draining suspend mode). I'm sure the fancier user interface and flash/WIFI abilities have something to do with the Archos 605 being considreably slower, but as I think most computer users know from experience - once the novelty wears off, startup speed is king over bells and whistles.

verdict: I'm an on-off kind of user (sometimes I only have 7 minutes to watch a movie during a short break), so fast startup times are important to me. with the Archos I'd have to choose between a slow startup time and a battery draining suspend mode, neither of which is to my liking. you might not care, if you don't mind charging the Archos more often or waiting longer for it to initialize, but in my case the Cowon A2 clearly trounces the Archos 605 here.


auto-resume (this is a huge feature for a PMP, hence the separate entry):

Cowon has a list of latest files and you can automatically resume any file from that list exactly where you left off. you can be in the middle of 10 (or more) different files, and you can still choose from a central list of files where you left off in each of them and continue from there. very handy.

Archos on the other hand can only continue from the last file you played. so whenever you are in the middle of one movie and switch to another to show your friend or to listen to an MP3, you lose that spot in the movie you were watching. you could try adding a bookmark (up to 32 bookmarks can be added), but then you'd have to do that every time for every file to achieve the same result, whereas the Cowon automatically remembers the place you left off in EACH file whenever you leave it (plus manual bookmarks can be used on the cowon as well).

also the cowon automatically continues where you left off with your last file upon startup (can be cancelled during startup or turned off completely). although archos remembers where you left off with your last file, it doesn't resume automatically - you need to take an extra step after startup and press a tiny button on the screen to resume watching a movie or listening to an MP3.

verdict: whereas it takes Cowon 16 seconds from startup to playing a movie (and all you have to do is turn on the device), it takes Archos 34 seconds just to initialize and then you have to press an additional tiny button on the screen to continue where you left off. once again, I don't want to wait longer or be bothered with having to press extra buttons to continue where I left off - or to find out that I forgot to bookmark one of my files and can no longer auto-resume it at all. cowon caters to this perfectly and archos seriously lags behind, so cowon wins hands down.


sound/audio quality:

Cowon has crystal clear sound with no static or hissing, plus the sound is rich and very customizeable. in fact the 3D surround, Bass Boost and MP3 enhance effects can actually even improve the already excellent sound quality instead of being just gimmicky at best or horrible at worst like in most other players. also, the maximum level of cowon's sound is a lot higher (and yet still without any distortions or hissing at all) than that of Archos.

Archos: a slight static noise can be heard in the headphones even when nothing's playing and the sound volume is low. not good. in comparison, the cowon is completely silent all the time (unless of course you play a media file). no amount of tweaking gets rid of the hissing on the Archos and it gets louder when you turn up the volume. the only thing that gets rid of the hiss is actually shutting down the player (not even suspend mode gets rid of it). the scant few audio customization settings on the archos don't seem to be having much of an impact on the quality of the sound either (they won't make it any better or worse, just very slightly different).

a note about connecting to external devices. since the Archos is a lot quieter at maximum volume settings, you'll have to rely more on the volume settings of your external device. for example my car stereo develops a similar hiss at higher sound volumes, so when I connect to Archos, I need to turn up the volume of the Archos, which itself creates a hiss, and also the volume of my car stereo, which creates additional hiss. add these two hisses together, and believe me, you get a lot of hiss.

on the other hand, the cowon is much louder at maximum sound settings, so I don't have to turn up my car stereo nearly that much, therefore I get no car stereo hissing. since the cowon itslef doesn't hiss either, I get crystal clear distortion-free sound quality when using the Cowon with my car stereo, as opposed to frustratingly audible hissing and crackling when using the Archos.

verdict: by itself, the Archos would probably me ok, but compared to the Cowon A2, it is not even remotely close. the Cowon has much better sound controls and a clearly better sound quality. and I'm no audiophile (owning a car stereo that starts hissing at louder volume settings, how could I possibly be, so if the difference is clear to me, then the difference is even clearer to those who actually do care about sound quality.


screen and video quality:

at first glance, the Archos 800x480 resolution screen looks superb. first of all, more resolution is always good. comparing the two players side by side running the same video and looking at it from a moderately close distance, it is quite clear, that a lot more minute details can be seen on the higher resolution screen of the Archos, than the 472x280 resolution screen of the Cowon A2. the individual pixels of the Cowon screen can become noticeable even at a normal viewing distance, whereas the individual pixels of the Archos screen don't become visible until you're too close to the screen for it to be practical.

also the Archos screen is non-reflective and less prone to fingerprint smudges. since I've had my fair share of cleaning the reflective screen of the Cowon from greasy smudges and trying to position it so that I don't see the reflection of my own face or other objects in the room, then at first I found the non-reflective screen a welcomed change. but then slowly and quietly the down-sides of the Archos screen started to raise their collective heads.

first off, since it is a touch-screen, there's an extra touch-sensitive layer above the screen. what this means though, is that whenever you move yourself or move the screen, you can see a slight shimmering effect on the screen. this seems to be inherent to all touch-screens, so no big deal, but compared to the crystal clear clarity of the Cowon screen (once I rub it clean from all the grease and position it so that I don't see any distracting reflections) it seems like a disappointment.

furthermore, the black is not really black on the Archos. it looks likea sort of washed out grey and doesn't look good at all. this can best be seen when the unit is turned off. instead of looking at a completely black screen, you're looking at a sort of a graysh screen. and how can you expect the grey of a turned off screen turn into a black of a turned on screen? well you can't, and the more light there is in the room, the more gray the blacks of the Archos start to look.

in comparison, the black on the Cowon is pitch black - both when turned off and also when displaying anything on the screen. if you happen to use the devices in dark surroundings, both screens look almost similar in terms of contrast and clarity, but the more bright the surroundings become, the worse the Archos screen starts to look and the more the Cowon screen stands out (and yes, I did try all sorts of brightess/contrast/backlight/gamma settings on the Archos to get rid of this, but nothing helped).

as with the shimmering, I'd attribute this to the touch-screen layer as well. I imagine that the extra layer gathers light from its surroundings and that's what results in this greyish overall tone for the screen. once again, it would have been ok by itself, but compared to the cowon, it doesn't look nearly as good.

also, the optimal viewing angle for the archos is too narrow. not that it has a narrow viewing angle by itself, in fact you can view the Archos from more extreme angles than the Cowon (the Cowon screen inverts when looked at from a very low angle), but I'm talking about optimal viewing angle here. when you move the Archos screenfrom side to side, the contrast levels change too quickly. so quickly in fact, that both your eyes never seem to be able to see the same same level of contrast and you always end up with one eye getting a somewhat darker and the other getting a somewhat lighter picture. this can get annoying quite fast.

the cowon changes brightness and contrast as well when you move it around, but the big difference here is that BOTH your eyes will always see the same level of contrast no matter your viewing angle. the archos seems to have such an angle too somewhere in the very center, but even the slightes movement will result in one of your eyes once again seeing a darker picture than another.

as for real-life video playback quality, both players seem to be about equal except for the fact that archos has a distinct resolution advantage. you'll see more detail with the Archos and also a lot less shimmering artifacts, that a low resolution screen combined with fine details on the screen (like various patterns, sand, grass etc) can produce. the archos also seems to have a more proper aspect ratio, whereas the cowon seems to be a bit too wide-screen (circles are completely circular on the archos screen but seem to be drawn a bit wide on cowon).

as a result, the only major thing the Archos screen seems to have going for itself, is its higher resolution. no reflections and no smudge are nice too, but not when they come at the expense of screen quality. if you manage to keep the Cowon screen clean and place it so that it doesn't give you any distractiong reflections, it actually looks much better (more contrasty and clear) even with the lower resolution. in the endI'd say it is a toss-up right now between the Archos with its higher resolution and the Cowon with its more crisp, clear and contrasty overall look (but I'd expect the A3 with its higher resolution to be a clear winner here).

to be continued...
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Old 06-16-2008, 05:15   #2
sir_tonyx
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part 2:

image browsing:

the archos is noticeably faster in displaying pictures (cowon really takes its time displaying each picture), faster and sharper in zooming in and out of pictures and easier to use. the touch screen helps A LOT when working with images. first of all, I'm sure you'd expect to move with your finger inside a zoomed picture and so you can. but furthermore - put your finger on any part of the picture and "swoosh", the Archos zooms into that part. fantastic. but the real star here is the hi-res screen. pictures on the Archos look fabulous and are really a marvel to look at, whereas on the cowon they look merely ok.

I'd in fact use the Archos to look at pictures and show them to others, whereas on the cowon it is more like a gimmick - you try it a few times and then you forget about it. in a pinch, the USB host features of Archos (using some additional dock, in my case the battery pack) could also be used to download pictures from other devices (cameras/memory card readers). it took 24 minutes to download 4 GB of pictures from a SanDisk Extreme IV CF card, whereas Cowon would take countless hours to do the same. (it should be noted though, that the USB host feature of Cowon A2 is only specified at USB 1.2, whereas the Cowon A3 has this at USB 2.0 just like the Archos, plus the Cowon players have everyting built in, whereas with the Archos you need to buy an extra dock to use the USB host feature).

verdict: absolutely no contest, archos is a superb image browsing machine. compared to the A2, the upcoming Cowon A3 is most likely faster downloading images from external devices, faster at displaying them and will probably display them better, but that can't really be decided until someone actually tests the device.


codec support:

both Cowon and Archos are currently kings of codec support, although you need to pay extra to unlock all the Archos codecs. and no, this hasn't been cracked, so you really need to pay if you want full support. however, Archos has a history of offering commercial plugins for free once the product becomes outdated, but it could be some time before that happens.

I must say thogh that I was disappainted to see many of my videos, which ran just fine on the Cowon, display a "go buy an MPEG2/AC3 codec on our website" screen on the Archos. also I'm not sure how Archos would handle AC3 streams. the Cowon can switch between different streams with ease (so you can watch a movie with audio commentary instead or use a different language track etc), but since Archos didn't support AC3 at all without the additional codec, I was unable to test that. also the Cowon can synchronize subtiles up and down and although subtitles are supported, I don't know in what capacity the Archos supports that.

verdict: more or less a tossup. I do prefer how Cowon supports all the stuff it can out of the box or at least with additional firmware patches, but then again Archos (arguably) keeps its base price lower by charging extra for additional codecs only from people who need them.


user interface, buttons and usability:

Archos: the user interface looks really nice and polished. the physical buttons are easy to press and since they're not contextual, they keep their meanings in different menus. there are nice animations everywhere - I expecially like the individual animated icons used for video files which give a tiny preview of each movie. scrolling is animated, album art is displayed prominently when playing MP3s, and overall, everything looks top notch.

there's also a touch-screen option but whereas using a finger seems too large for some smaller buttons, the included stylus seems like an overkill for some larger buttons, plus there's no place to put it on the unit, so most likely you'll leave it in the drawer. I found myself switching between the stylus, the finger and the buttons more often than I would have liked. however, the option is there to pick what you like and then to stick with it.

cowon: the user interface looks ok, but compared to the archos it looks somewhat outdated. also the lower resolution of the screen doesn't help matters. the four-way joystick has been panned by users, but I find it does the job well and is sometimes even easier to use than all the different buttons of Archos (though my 2 year experience may play a part in this). for example the simple act of going up one folder, and moving down to another folder to enter it on the Archos requires pressing "close", "down" and "ok", which are all different buttons in different places, whereas on the Cowon you press "back", "down" and "forward" with your thumb using the same joystick withot having to look for various buttons all over the place (which can be hard especially when you're operating the device in the dark). you could do the same via the touch screen interface just by pressing "X" in the corner to exit a window and tap twice on another folder to enter it, though I do prefer the tactile feedback of buttons as opposed to the purely visual feedback of touch-screen operation.

however, for one handed operation, the Cowon is much better. if you need to navigate between folders and open various media files, the joystick (and the few extra buttons) let you do it with ease. you can hold the player steadily in one hand and achieve all you need to do with your thumb. on the archos though, anywhere you'd want to put your thumb to hold the device, there's a button.

there really is no way of holding the Archos with just one hand without pressing one button or another accidentally. then when you actually try to do things, your thumb better be nimble, because you need to press various buttons all along the right side of the screen - and remember, there's no place for the thumb to rest either, so it better not get tired. although most operations can be achieved with the physical buttons, there are small touch-screen icons as well. some are close to the right edge of the screen, so you may just reach them with your button. then again they are small and bunched together, so it really is a hit and miss. however, some buttons can be anywhere on the screen and then you're out of luck. you need to operate the Archos with two hands and preferably the stylus as well.

surprisingly, although the Cowon is an older model, it is much better at multitasking. you can browse around while a movie or MP3 file is playing in the background (and you can actually see a movie while you browse your files), whereas the Archos cuts off whatever its doing once you exit the corresponding folder.

as for physical handling, the Cowon is easier to take hold of without accidentally pressing some buttons, since there's a lot less of them and they are smaller. at first the small buttons may seem like a nuisance, but then it becomes clear, that there's actually a reason for that. the buttons are big enough so that when you want to press them, you can do that with ease. but they are small and spaced apart enough, so that you can actually rest your thumb in the area and hold the device securely without accidentally pressing them, which is something you can NOT do with the Archos (on the Archos I constalty found myself pressing some of the buttons on the right hand side, since that's where you usually want to put your thumb when you pick up or hold a device).

the Cowon also features a wristband, which is good to use for added security when you hold the device (so that even if you drop it, it never actually falls to the ground). but even if you had a separate wrisband to use with the Archos, the Archos doesn't even have a place you could attacth it to, so make sure you hold your Archos tight (but oops, the big buttons and touch screen actually discourage that).

the Archos is noisy and vibrates in your hand. the vibration stops when the hard drive spins down, but when its spinning, the whole things feels and sounds like you're holding a small computer in your hand and the audible humming and vibration can get annoying. the Cowon on the other hand is completely still and silent throughout all its operation and only clicks when the hard drive parks its heads when shutting down. no audible humming and no vibration whatsoever. then again we are talking about a 20 GB vs a 160 GB hard drive, so that could be part of the reason, but I must say, I'd much rather hold a smaller capacity capacity steady PMP in my hand than a larger capacity vibrator. too bad the size difference is so huge here, but a 60 or 80 GB A3 would certainly diminish that.

the Cowon comes with a very nice leather case, which also has a built-in stand. the case that comes with the Archos is a rigid el-cheapo nylon sock of sorts, which is good for just stuffing your player into it and taking it out. there's no functionality and no point besides that. to be fair, the Archos main unit has a built-in stand to compensate for this, but it is a pain to use (each time just as hard to get to open) and also has only one very rigid open position, whereas the leather case of the Cowon allows it to be placed at a variety of different up/down viewing angles.

vedict: as for the user interface, although the archos can't seem to make up its mind about whether it wants you to use the buttons, your finger or the stylus, the overall user experience is still better than with the cowon. the big row of buttons of the Archos can be a bit of a pain though when actually handling the unit and the safety and comfort features of the Cowon (the leather case with a stand and wristband) are much better.


wifi-browsing:

I didn't feel like purchasing the plugin, so I don't know. from what I've heard, the archos is more or less excellent at it, whereas the cowon naturally lacks the ability altogether.

verdict: obviously there's no contest here, but I didn't buy it for wifi, so I can't tell.


additional featuers:

the Cowon has integrated FM, integrated microphone, stereo speakers (though this is more of a gimmick than something practical), plus all codecs and connectivity is supported out of the box. archos has the aforementioned WIFI and hi-res screen, but you need a separate dock for USB host features, faster charging and connectivity, also you need to pay extra for recording features and additional codec support (and you still won't get ogg support).

I guess it all comes down to price. the Archos 605 is cheaper across the board than the upcoming Cowon A3. and fine as the A2 is, the 20 GB size and lower resolutin screen no longer cuts it today. I've now been able to satisfy my curiousity for something different than a mere resolution and capacity upgrade of a Cowon A2, but I think I'll be selling both the Archos and the A2 and going for the A3. if the Cowon A2 is already better than the Archos 605 in most respects except resolution and size, the A3 which specifically addresses these issues can only be better. if you want a WIFI device, the Archos is a better choice. if you work with images and/or are a photographer, the Archos is the best portable image browsing machine there currently is (fast operation, beautiful, touch-screen zooming, fast USB host features, huge capacity, reasonable price). but if you want the best audio and video quality available, the Cowon is clearly a better choice.
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Old 06-16-2008, 19:45   #3
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First of all, I just read through that HUGE comparison you wrote, bravo on that! Anyway, good comparison, and I can add a second opinion I think. I too owned an A2 and have the 160GB Archos 605. I agree with most of what you said, but I think that the 605 isn't really for the same market as the A2/A3.

The Archos is more of a videocentric device. To me, especially at the higher capacities, the Archos is meant for video support mainly, and everything else is a strong second place. Cowon is known for their audio quality. I would say that the Q5w is more of a direct comparison with the 605 than the A2/A3.

Great read though, I am sure it will help out someone who is on the fence!
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Old 06-17-2008, 02:10   #4
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Nice read.
Just to add on with some A3 numbers ...
- lasts around 6 and a quarter hours for video on a single charge (LCD @ 2/3)
- takes around 5.5 hours to charge up completely (USB charging is a gimmick... very slow.. only in case of emergencies)
- takes around 12 secs to boot up normal. With Video Resume, goes to 16secs.
- never been able to see pixels on my A3 screen... ever... till now. Couple that with a good anti-reflective screen protector..you're good to take on anything.
- A3 image browsing still a gimmick but better.. don't use it that much. But passable when needed... unless you'd like to zoom and rotate and stuff.
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Old 09-09-2008, 06:24   #5
sir_tonyx
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I've now owned both the Cowon A3 and the Archos 605 for a while. I did some additional testing and here are the results.

running a video on loop, about 2/3 brightness on both devices:
Archos 605: 4 hours 40 minutes
Cowon A3: 6 hours 40 minutes

comments: cowon has about 30% more juice.

USB 2.0 connection to PC, transfer speed:
Archos 605: 16 MB/s
Cowon A3: 6 MB/s

comments: transfer speeds of archos are almost 3 times quicker.

USB host function, copying 4GB of pictures from a SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash card:
Archos 605: 24 minutes 11 seconds
Cowon A3: 15 minutes

comments: interestingly enough, the roles are reversed and cowon is about 70% faster in USB host mode.

screen/image quality:
whereas the screen of the Cowon A3 looks crystal clear, contrasty and colourful, the screen of Archos looks washed out, gray and grainy. if anyone's interested, you can check out a resized comparison picture here (I've tried to tweak both displays to their maximum quality): http://antonipildid.net/archos_vs_cowon.jpg

also you can adjust saturation on the Cowon to make the colours pop even more - there is no similar setting on Archos (uppiong the gamma setting just makes the screen look even more washed out). in a dark room the Archos is watchable as well (as long as you don't compare it to a Cowon), but in a brightly lit environment, the screen becomes so washed out it starts to become unwatchable. no such problem with the Cowon, it keeps its contrast and watchability as long as you avoid direct reflections on the screen.

I also started a charging test, but didn't care to finish it past a 6 hour mark. Cowon recharged from empty to full in around 4 hours and 40 minutes and Archos was still recharging after 6 hours when I decided to call it quits. the info around the web is that it recharges in 7-12 hours via USB and in around 5 hours via battery pack. I found the battery pack quite disappointing though, so I sold it and was left with USB. but essentially, when the Cowon is drained, you can continue using it while plugged into a wall outlet, but when the Archos is drained, you CAN'T continue using it when plugged into USB, connected to a battery pack or wall outlet, since it ALWAYS discharges faster than it is able to recharge. essentially it has to be charged FIRST and only then can you continue using it, which is nuts. I'd say charging speed and functionality (being able to use it even when battery is drained) is vastly superior on the Cowon A3.

both Cowon and Archos were initially crippled in the sound volume department due to some nutty EU regulations. both players started out really silent even when playing on maximum volume, but after some digging around I found out that you can reset the Cowon device and choose any other country outside the EU to make the sound loud again. I couldn't find a similar setting on Archos though (probably because that is a French device as opposed to a Koren device), so Archos has a permanently low volume setting even when maxed out. it is ok in a quiet room, but in a noisy environment can become a bit of a problem.

after I've used them both for a while, I'll be selling one of them and I bet you already know, which one
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Old 09-09-2008, 08:18   #6
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I see someone still using his trusty A2 leather case. A2 case i feel still better than the new A3 case.
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