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iRiver T7 - iRiver T7
Now, the advantage that an MP3 player like this or the Clip have over the original Zen Stone or iPod shuffle is, theoretically, ease of use. Unfortunately, the T7 doesn't fare that well in this regard. Surprisingly, the tiny display isn't to blame. It's a basic, bright blue on black display, but it fits four lines of scrolling info at any time enabling you to browse the onboard music library or flick through the menu options fairly quickly. The fault lies with the controls and the interface, with an unintuitive system of menus covering the different playback, record and settings modes and buttons that don't always work as accurately or reliably as you'd probably like.
After a few days I've got used to it, but I still have to remember what menu leads to what option and how to navigate between, say, music playback and browsing the library, and it's a lot less transparent than the iPod Nano or the Sansa Clip. The fact that the Play and Mode buttons have dual functions depending on whether you click or click-and-hold doesn't always help.
At least getting music on the T7 is easy; you can either drag and drop files straight across using Windows Explorer or use your preferred media player. iRiver has thoughtfully included their own on the accompanying mini CD, but there seems to be little advantage in using it.
In terms of additional features, you get a bit of a mixed bag. The built-in FM radio works reasonably well, though sound quality varies greatly from channel to channel and setting up presets isn't as easy as it might be. You can record straight from the radio to a WMA file should you wish and drag these to your desktop later. The voice recorder is fine for the odd muttered note, but the microphone is too weak to pick up voices at any sort of distance, limiting its use in meetings or presentations.
Still, you wouldn't really buy the T7 for that sort of thing - you would buy it because you want a reasonable amount of music in the most mobile form possible. That being the case, this is a perfectly decent little player. Even with the cheap supplied earbuds it produces a good, clean sound with a robust bottom end and a good tone across the range; nothing exceptional, but fine for a player of this type. Six EQ settings, a custom option and a rather clumsy bass boost function mean you can tailor the sound to your preferences. SRS WOW HD processing can also be added if you like that sort of thing, though I found the sound more live and natural without. Jet's Are You Gonna Be My Girl rocks hard with a suitably pounding bassline and choppy guitars high in the mix. The reverb-drenched atmospherics of Volcano from Beck's Modern Guilt are immersive and convincing, with the clean guitar tones ringing through the dark and murky layers of sound.