That said, it hasn’t reached utopia quite yet. The biggest issue is the touchscreen itself. Unfortunately, it’s not all that responsive to finger pressure, leaving you stuck prodding it with the elegant stainless steel stylus provided. Even this isn’t consistently effective, and – bizarrely – there’s nowhere to stow it inside the casing. There are times, as well, when the movement between screens proves a little languorous; not enough to irritate, but enough to make you miss the snappy response of other PMPs with more conventional controls – or the good old iPod touch, for that matter.
Luckily, the P7 isn’t completely reliant on its interface. Physical controls, as you might expect, are minimal, with just an on button, a hold slider, up and down volume buttons and a menu button. The proprietary USB connection can be found beneath a sliding panel on the base. However, the P7 does sport two features I hadn’t honestly expected, namely a built-in mono speaker (quiet and tinny, but no surprises there) and a micro SD memory card slot, providing you with up to 4GB of extra capacity should you need it. And you might, if only to take more advantage of the P7’s video playback capabilities.
The player theoretically supports files in a range of containers, including WMV, AVI, MP4 and FLV, with codec support for H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and XviD. In tests, format support was reasonably robust, though not up to the ‘play anything’ standards of Cowon’s plucky little O2 PMP. A couple of MP4 videos suffered from blocky artefacts and distorted audio, while an XviD rip of Iron Man suffered from a noticeable lag between video and soundtrack. A couple of video files also suffered from slightly jerky motion during scenes with a lot of movement. Overall, however, video playback is good, and one benefit of having a larger than normal screen is that this is a PMP you could potentially watch a whole movie on. Even with Iron Man’s sound sync problems, I very nearly did.
After the Spinn, I had high expectations for the P7 in terms of audio output, and I haven’t been hugely disappointed. I’m coming to associate iRiver’s sound with clarity and balance, and the P7 delivers a strong, clean sound that works well through a decent pair of headphones. Needless to say, the bundled earbuds don’t qualify; the bass is too weak and the mid-range hideously cluttered. Switch to even budget ‘phones, however – I used a pair of Sennheiser CX-300 IIs – and these weaknesses disappear, the bottom end kicking in nicely and the mid-range improving in detail, with a nice crisp, sparkle at the top.
The deep bass notes, thumping drums and samples of Bat for Lashes’ Sleep Alone come through nicely, delivering a rich, attention-grabbing sound and clear, expressive vocals. If your tastes run more to hard rock or metal, then you might want a player with a little more mid-range oomph, but a quick run of Mastodon’s Divinations from Crack the Skye proved that the P7 is no slouch when it comes to thick riffs, rolling drum fills and oodles of widdly guitar. You might want to fiddle the EQ a bit for rock, but be wary. The presets aren’t particularly subtle, and the SRS WoW effect adds an obviously processed tone to the output.