If you're just not bothered about that iPod nonsense but still want a functional, affordable and attractive player, you'd be justified in considering the iRiver E100. It will be available at the end of April in capacities of 4GB for £80 and 8GB for £100, and is surely on the affordable end of the MP3 player market.
But will iRiver's previous successes with the Clix line carry the E100 through this furiously competitive marketplace? Let's find out.
Our first impressions were that the E100 is of a good size, with decent screen dimensions and a lightweight build quality. We're still impressed, even though the four-way directional pad has a sporadically unresponsive nature. Sure, this fiddly control pad doesn't improve the use of the similarly sluggish menus, but it's blisteringly simple -- a killer feature for technophobes.
Above the control pad sits the 61mm (2.4-inch) colour screen. Compared to Creative's similarly-priced 4GB Zen player, it's significantly less impressive. The resolution is certainly good enough for an MP3 player, but it lacks the beautiful crispness of the Zen or iPod nano, providing a moderately pixellated image. But it's reasonably bright and when combined with its size and the E100's menu design and navigation, it's acceptable.
At its core, the E100 is an MP3 player that'll also handle OGG, WMA, FLAC and ASF files, though no Windows Media Lossless. There are plenty of EQ settings to play with, too. MPEG-4 and WMV videos are also supported, along with a variety of image formats for creating slideshows of your favourite photos. Either Windows Media Player or some bundled software will help you convert your stored video clips, although it didn't like working with our high-definition test files.
While podcasts aren't supported by default, Podcast Ready's excellent application can be installed on the E100 to provide automatic downloading and syncing of shows. In addition, songs bought on Napster will play when synced with Windows Media Player. DRM-free iTunes Plus downloads -- not to mention any other iTunes downloads, however, will not.
We liked the ability to bookmark tracks and videos. After bookmarking a song, video, podcast or audiobook at, say, 1 minute 30 seconds in, the song shows up in a dedicated bookmark list. This lets you browse a list of tracks -- or book titles, for instance -- that have bookmarks within them, and resume listening without affecting playback when the tracks play as part of a playlist.
As a bonus, the E100 is expandable up to 8GB with microSD, but tracks stored on these cards are not pulled into the main music menu.
Happily, it functions as a pretty capable recording device. In addition to voice recording via internal microphone, you can plug in a 3.5mm cable and record from any external source, including an external microphone. Three WMA quality settings -- up to 192kbps -- allow you to record over 100 hours of audio or, as the E100 has a built-in FM radio, stereo radio broadcasts.