Usability is fairly challenging for a tiny player, especially if you don’t want to cover it with buttons. There are six on the iRiver, – three on top and three below. These have different functions, depending on what screen you are in, which does get confusing. It’s not user friendly like an iPod, which I normally wouldn’t tolerate, but when you’re talking about a device that’s this small and this good looking I prepared to cut iRiver a little slack.
You power it on by pressing the play/stop button and opposite this is the menu button. Press this once while playing and acts a mark in point for the repeat function – press again for the mark out. Hold it down however and you get to the menu options. Diving through this you’ll find a fair few options including equalizer presents, a shuffle mode, an intro function and a sleep timer. There are also four screensavers to choose from, my favourite of which is the dancing stick man. In fact when my wife saw this in action, she immediately decided she wanted one – without even knowing what the device actually was.
The software comes on a small mini-CD, which looks funky but means it won’t fit in a slot loading drives. That said, you’ll probably be better off downloading the newer version available on the web site. There’s also a firmware update, which contains a few bug fixes.
You get music onto your player by removing the cap and attaching the player to a small USB dongle. The iRiver music manger is a fairly uninspiring program but you need to use it get tracks onto the player. One of the most disappointing features is that the player is only USB 1.1 so it’s a bit of a chore to fill it up, especially with the 512MB version. The player can read ID3 tags and by adjusting the play mode, you can choose to play all the tracks on the player sequentially or just inside folders. The player charges over USB so if you do run out off power you’ll need to find a nearby PC to plug it into.
Despite minor flaws the iRiver won me over and is certainly the nicest looking solid-state player I’ve used. The only trouble is that the price for this slice of digital audio is high at £149 for the 512MB version, which will get you a 1.5GB hard disk player. Equally £179 will get you a 5GB Zen Micro. Alternatively, the 256MB version of the player will set you back £129 or £99 for the 128MB version. However, the iRiver is tiny, looks fantastic, and you could easy walk around with it under your top, making it a very differnt beast to the likes of an iPod mini.
The iRiver is a gorgeous little digital audio player, that packs in a surprising amount of features for the price. It’s a little tricky to use but not prohibitively so. The only possible downer is the price, but considering the size, looks, and sound quality I’d say this is one player worth splashing out on.
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