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Despite the obsession of modern society with appearance, appearance, appearance, good looks don't always mean top quality. The most attractive of supermodels occasionally, turn out not to be rocket scientists; the most fantastic looking minimalist flats can turn out to be completely impractical to live in and million dollar special effects don't always mean an entertaining movie.
It's sometimes the way in the world of technology, too. Slim and sleek design often masks a neglect of basic features - the Meizu MiniPlayer SL 8GB I reviewed in these pages looked great but sadly failed to match those looks with sound quality. It was brilliantly easy to use too, which made the poor sound all the more frustrating.
The latest player from iRiver - the 8GB E100 - comes from the opposite school of thought, putting practicality before looks. It's certainly not the greatest piece of hardware design I've ever come across, clad entirely in plain black plastic. Click over to the iRiver website and you'll see all sorts of sexy stock shots of the player, but don't let that fool you; apart from the fact that you can also buy it in a range of colours, there's nothing at all here that provides any kind of visual highlight. There's no aluminium anywhere, no-soft touch surfaces, no gloss finish or subtle sparkle; in fact the standard plastics don't even feel that nice in the hand.
The five-way directional button panel occupies an unnecessarily large proportion of the front panel making the E100 quite a chunky player, too. Even though it has the same-sized screen as the Meizu - a 2.4in 240 x 320 TFT - it feels much bigger. It's certainly much, much thicker at around 14mm (compared to the Meizu's 10mm) and that button panel adds a good inch to the length of the player.
Flip the E100 over and you find the reason for that extra bulk. On the rear is a pair of speakers, and as with Creative's latest range of pocket Shuffle-style music players, if you unplug your headphones the E100 produces noise. I say noise, because these speakers are barely worthy of the name. They're very quiet and sound horrible. Even the speaker on the much smaller Creative Zen Stone players is better than this.
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