iriver T20

If the iPod nano is impossibly small, then this portable flash-memory based MP3 player is truly inconceivable. The diminutive T20 is little larger than your thumb and a good deal smaller than the aforementioned iPod yet manages to fit plenty of features in. Clearly rival manufacturer iriver knows something that Apple does not.

Admittedly, it isn’t quite as thin as the nano. In the looks department it’s no iPod either. But the T20 is a lot easier on the eye than most other rivals and certainly a lot more sharply dressed than Creative’s Zen Nano. The only complaint is that next to the anodised red aluminium trim, wrap-around chrome rear panel and buttons, the matt black plastic front is a bit of a let-down. The blue backlit screen looks nice, though.

Size and looks, however, are not the most impressive aspects of this rather smart little player. That honour, strange to say, belongs to its USB connection. Flick the slider on the rear of the T20 and out pops a full-sized USB plug. There’s no need to carry any cables around with you (the T20 also recharges its Lithium-polymer battery via its USB connection) and no cap to lose either – just slot it into a free USB socket like any USB thumb drive and you’re away. And because the T20 pops up in Windows as a USB mass storage device you can use it much like a thumb drive too.

In other respects the T20 has plenty going for it too. As well as support for the standard WMA and MP3 file formats, it will also play the increasingly popular Ogg Vorbis file format. It has a built in microphone for recording voice memos, a line-in which can be used to encode from an external source directly to MP3. You can even set the T20 for voice-activated recording or to automatically break recording between tracks.

On the other hand listening is a bit of a mixed bag. As expected the SRS Wow 3D sound processing is a complete waste of time, serving to muddle and confuse sound rather than enhance it. Stick to the standard settings and the T20 sounds pretty good. It tends to sound a little muffled and over-warm in comparison to Creative’s excellent Zen Nano – the piano on Ben Folds’ Songs for Silverman doesn’t sound quite as realistic, for example, while instrument separation on more complex tracks isn’t as impressive - but the differences are small. I’d recommend you bin the supplied headphones, though - they’re truly awful and nowhere near as good as those supplied with the Zen Nano.

It was always going to be a bit of a challenge to fit usable controls on the tiny T20 and so it proves. The chromed buttons may look very nice, but there’s virtually no feedback when you press them and the fact that they’re so close together means it’s extremely difficult to tell which one you’re pressing without looking closely first.

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