After appearing in Asia early this summer, the iRiver U10 has finally made its UK debut. The distinctive flash-based player comes in 1GB and 2GB capacities -- at around £140 and £175 respectively -- and is packed with features. Its compact, miniature TV-like design also represents a departure from not only previous iRiver products but also MP3 players in general.
Although we'd like to see a lower price point and higher capacity options, we have to admit that we're enamoured with the sleek and stylish iRiver U10.
Both early and late adopters, not to mention design heads, will fall in love with the iRiver U10's futuristic industrial look. The compact player measures 47 by 69 by 16mm, weighs 70g and features a bright and colourful 56mm (2.2-inch) display with a resolution of 320x240 pixels. While there are a few buttons on the sides, users navigate the interface by pressing on the four sides of the display itself. Referred to by iRiver as the D-Click, this tactile control method, combined with graphical arrows pointing you in the right direction, is both intuitive and logical. Indeed, compared to previous iRiver interfaces, the U10's is refreshingly simple and easy on the eyes. It reminds us of the Olympus M:robe 500i's, except that the iRiver U10 is much smaller and does not have a touch-sensitive screen -- a good thing. The one downside to the overall interface setup is that, while one-handed operation in possible, two-handed operation is ergonomically preferable and causes less screen smudging.
Around the edges of the iRiver U10, you'll find the remainder of the controls. On the top are the too-tiny dedicated volume buttons, along with a pinhole mic, while the right side features the power button and a key that flips the interface 90 degrees so that you can use the U10 in landscape or portrait modes. A hold switch on the bottom of the player rounds out the controls. The proprietary dock connector and the Reset hole also rest along the underside of the device. Beside this switch are the Reset hole and proprietary dock connector -- sorry, there's no standard USB port here. The headphone jack is on the left side.
A relatively decent set of iPod-looking headphones (white to match the U10 and accessories) is included in the package, along with a proprietary USB cable that serves to charge the player and transfer content. There's also a printed manual and an install disc for a music-management app called iRiver Plus 2, which is decent enough, but you're probably better off with Windows Media Player. Note that when you hook up the iRiver U10 for transferring, the player must be turned on; otherwise, it will just start charging with no data option.
As an option, iRiver is also offering a cradle pack. This separate accessories bundle includes an IR remote, a retro-looking docking cradle, a USB cable and a minijack-to-minijack cable for line-in recordings, which are possible with only the dock. Once you pop the iRiver U10 into its bright white cradle, the whole thing ends up looking like a mini TV, complete with built-in speakers. There's even a snooze button on top for the onboard alarm clock. On the back, you'll find line-in and line-out jacks as well as a mini USB port. If there's one complaint we have about the cradle, it's that the pass-through on the back is a standard mini USB port, meaning it requires a different USB cable than the U10's. And given the U10's price tag, it would be much fairer if the cradle was a bundled accessory.
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