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Hats off to iRiver, while other personal media player manufacturers seem content to merely follow wherever Apple leads, the Korean company can barely go a month without trying out a new form factor or a new style of GUI. The Spinn is a case in point; pitched somewhere between the iPod nano and the iPod touch, it looks like an elegant, stripped back take on the PMP but turns out to have a slick and innovative interface and some interesting features of its own.
As with iRiver's previous high points - the Clix 2 and the Lplayer - the Spinn manages its steamlined design by employing a touchscreen interface, the only obvious physical controls being a power button and a volume control on the left-hand side and a lock slider and 'back' button on the top. It's a well-built and very pocketable unit, around 11mm thick and weighing in at just under 70g, and it looks a little like a brushed steel door hinge, though the majority of the body is actually plastic. Frankly, it's understated but gorgeous. The Spinn's clever secret - and the rationale behind the name - lies in the rounded edge to the right of the 3.3in Active Matrix OLED screen. The top part is what iRiver calls the Spinn System Analog Wheel. It's this, rather than the touchscreen, that you'll spend most of your time using when you want to get to grips with the Spinn.
Together with a slick, horizontally scrolling interface, you rotate the wheel with thumb and fingers to twitch back and forth between the player's different functions or skip backwards and forwards through tracks on an album, clicking it downwards to select. It's also the wheel you'll reach for when you need to scroll up and down through menus of option settings or the usual album and artist lists (a variant of the iPod's CoverFlow interface would have made even more sense here, but the list style works perfectly well). If you want to select a particular option without scrolling through, you can also press it on the touchscreen, and there are option menus and onscreen controls that you can access that way if you prefer. The GUI matches the design of the player by combining text with nice, clean fonts and rather sparse-looking, vector-based icons in a cool, modern style. It's a good looking, logical and usable interface, and a vibration feature adds a nice layer of tactile feedback when you select an option or reach the end of a particular list or menu.
Admittedly, while the wheel proves a responsive and intuitive control the touchscreen is less so; the panel could do with being just a bit more sensitive, and iRiver could still be a little more imaginative with ways of using touch to flick through albums, videos or photos. However, the only serious issue here is that the Spinn can't really be used one-handed. You can just about hold the player vertically and work with the wheel and back button in this way, but it's a bit of a hit and miss affair. Personally, I don't think this is a huge problem, but it's one area where the non-touch iPods and some of Creative and SanDisk's players still have an edge.