That said, you definitely get what you pay for in the features department. The iRiver U10 is packed to the brim with useful extras. You get an FM tuner (with up to 20 presets) and a voice recorder, with line-in recording as an optional feature via the dock. There's also a calendar and an alarm clock, as well as support for Flash games. Our test unit came with several titles already loaded, but keep in mind you can't listen to music while you play these games -- they have their own sound built in. If you need something interesting just to keep your eyes busy, the iRiver U10 delivers in that area too. You get text and JPEG viewing and you can view photos or play a slide show while listening to music. Plus, you can tinker with the background of the interface itself, choosing from seven sharp-looking colour schemes, based on the days of the week, or an automatic setting that cycles through each day. Alternatively, you can use your own photos for the screen. Unfortunately, album art is not supported at this time, though iRiver states that this issue will likely be addressed in a future firmware update.
As icing on the cake, the iRiver U10 supports MPEG-4 video, though as yet, there's no easy way to get this content, like iTunes does with the new iPod. You'll have to do your own video conversion on files you want to play on the device. And while iRiver's user guide clearly documents the parameters for compatible video and describes how to transfer it to the U10, it neither explains how to convert video, nor does the included iRiver Plus 2 software function as a video converter. Again, because of the relatively small 1GB or 2GB of storage, you won't be able to hold many films, much less tonnes of audio, photo and video files. A 4GB version at a reasonable price would be preferable for carrying around such a variety of multimedia files.
Of course, the heart of an MP3 player is its digital music playback, and the iRiver U10 is no slouch in that area. The U10 supports MP3, OGG, and WMA files, including songs purchased from online stores such as MSN Music or downloaded as part of an on-the-go subscription service such as Napster To Go. You can transfer premade playlists to the device or choose from several on-the-fly options: make your own Quick List, or let the player decide based on Recently Played, My Favorites or My Rating. You can also rate songs on the fly.
For music playback, the U10 offers the standard shuffle and repeat settings, and you can also select from 13 equaliser settings: Normal, Classic, Live, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Ubass, Metal, Dance, Party, Club, SRS WOW and a user-defined mode. These EQ settings can be previewed in real time. What you don't get is autoplay, that is, when you turn the player off and then on again it doesn't automatically resume playback. This can be quite a pain if you're not on the Now Playing screen when you shut down, since you have to navigate back to the song you were listening to. Oddly, though, once you get to that song, it will resume where it left off. Your videos will also pick up right where you left off.
Thankfully, all the audio features don't go to waste, because the iRiver U10 sounds great and gets very loud. We preferred our custom EQ to the flat setting, but however you slice it, you get clear highs, a defined midrange and tangible lows. But if you want to experience everything the U10 has to offer in the sound department (especially the bass), pair it with some high-end headphones. The included earbuds sound surprisingly decent, but they're uncomfortable. The iRiver U10's rated 28-hour battery life is also good, but weren't able to check it because of a problem during our test.
Overall performance was similarly impressive in our real-world tests. The Flash games are surprisingly engaging and colourful, FM reception is excellent, and the related autoscan feature works well. Menu navigation is speedy, and you get accelerated scrolling through track lists, with a cool blurred text effect. Videos play after just a brief loading time (comparable to that of the iPod), and they look fine -- although small -- on the bright colour screen. Unfortunately, there's no video-out option, but that's probably just as well, since clips formatted for the U10's display would no doubt look subpar on a full-size screen.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Nick Hide