The iriver P7 is an attractive touchscreen portable media player, offered in 8GB (£170) and 16GB (£200) capacities. Like its smaller cousin, the Spinn, the P7 sports an aluminium design and offers music, video, radio and photo playback, as well as voice recording and a text reader. You won't find advanced features such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi on the P7, but its relatively low price and large, 109mm (4.3-inch) screen make it a tempting purchase for video fans.
We have some gripes with the P7, but design isn't one of them. The P7's sleek aluminium body looks like it belongs in a modern art museum. In fact, even the plastic carton the P7 is packaged in looks like a design student's graduate project.
The P7 measures 114mm across, 76mm tall and a relatively svelte 13mm thick. The overall form is more pocket-friendly than the chunkier design of the Cowon O2, feeling more like an Archos 5 with a shrunken screen. The P7 is mainly operated using the touchscreen, but you'll find tiny buttons for power, menu and volume on the top edge of the player. The P7's headphone jack is on the right edge, along with a hold switch and a microSD memory slot covered by a plastic door.
While the P7's hardware looks like iriver's taken a few cues from Apple, the touchscreen interface is entirely unique. The company appropriately describes the main menu screen as magazine-like, laying out each of the player's functions on a single screen, compartmentalised into an attractive arrangement of boxes. If you're accustomed to scrolling though menus, the P7's Mondrian-esque layout may take some time to grow on you. After spending time with it, we can't say the layout offers any practical advantages, but it's a pleasant break from the norm.
Once you dial down into the P7's music and photo menus, the single-page interface of the main menu eventually gives way to a more common list view. Unlike the iPod touch's smooth, swift and responsive song lists, sorting through your music on the P7 requires patience and a precise touch on a slim graphical scroll bar. If you plan on storing a large music collection on the P7, prepare for some navigation frustration.
The P7 is easy on the eye, but the features are nothing to write home about. Despite the movie-worthy 109mm screen with a 480x272-pixel resolution, video really isn't the P7's forte. On paper, support for formats such as AVI, MP4, WMV, MPEG, FLV, Xvid, H.264 and a handful of others makes the P7's video capabilities seem very impressive. In practice, however, we found that the P7 doesn't offer the kind of drag-and-drop video format and resolution flexibility we've seen from competitors such as the O2 or Archos 605 WiFi.
Just like the smaller-screened Samsung YP-P3 or Spinn, we found ourselves spending extra time converting the videos we wanted to watch on the P7 using the included software. Power users and the patient-minded may be able to put up with the P7's particular video requirements, but people looking for drag-and-drop simplicity should look elsewhere.
In spite of our complaints about the sluggish, unfriendly design of the P7's music menu navigation, the audio capabilities of the P7 are arguably the best feature of the device. The P7 supports the MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV and OGG file formats, along with album artwork and lyrics, but leaves out the AAC format critical for playing back music purchased from iTunes.
Songs are listed in either an ID3 tag sort (album, artist, genre or playlist) or presented as the user's own custom list of folders. Once a song is playing, you can apply custom or preset EQ (there are also some good SRS WOW HD enhancement settings), change the playback mode (shuffle, repeat and so on), rate the song on a five-star scale, and even view song-lyric information embedded within the file's ID3 tag. There are also settings for bookmarking, looping or saving files to a custom playlist.
Between the P7 and the O2, we're torn when it comes to each player's audio capabilities. Neither device shines in terms of touchscreen menu navigation, but we suspect the O2's AAC support is more important than its lack of ID3 song sorting, although some will surely disagree.
P7 features such as the FM radio and text reader are good to have but unexceptional. The photo viewer, like most aspects of the P7, is rather sluggish. At best, transitions between photographs take 3 seconds to complete, and the image browser uses the same tiny, tedious scroll bar found on the music player.
Voice recordings are also disappointing. Recordings are made to WMA files and include the same ever-present high-pitched mechanical whine we hear on most MP3 player voice memo recorders. What's maddening is that there's no way to monitor the quality of the recordings you're making, either by hearing them over headphones in real-time or by seeing a visual indication of the recording input volume. With all of the P7's screen real estate, you'd think iriver could have slapped on a nifty graphical display to offer some reassurance that the microphone is working.
The P7's rated battery life of 35 hours of audio and 7 hours of video is impressive. Video and photo-image quality are comparable to that of the O2, although we encountered dramatic screen darkening while tilting the P7's screen at an upward viewing angle. In terms of audio, the P7's default sound is as rich as anything you'll hear from an iPod, but, with enough help from the integrated EQ and suite of SRS audio enhancements, you can sweeten the sound to fit your taste.
The biggest performance disappointment of the P7 is the included PC software. Three main apps come bundled on the included CD: a firmware updater, an iriver-branded app for transferring media to the P7, and a video converter. Under Windows XP, we installed all three applications, and had trouble with each of them.
Initially, the firmware updater wouldn't recognise the P7 and told us so with a barrage of repetitive alerts. After rebooting the computer and the P7 and switching up the device's USB protocol (switchable between UMS and MTP), we finally got the updater to stick.
The iriver Plus 3 media-transfer software promised to transfer our music, photos and video directly to the P7, but turned out to be utterly useless. Even the seemingly simple task of using the software to transfer music to the P7 caused repeated crashes of both the software and the device. In the end, we uninstalled the application and opted to drag and drop our media directly to the device or use Windows Media Player.
The included movie converter application was the least disappointing of the bunch, although it required the P7 to be set in MTP mode for the software to recognise it. We also noticed that the movie application refused to recognise some of our MP4 and MOV files, which is odd for an application made expressly for converting diverse video file types.
All in all, the iriver P7 is a beautiful-looking product at an affordable price, but its features come up short on just about every front. The music player offers plenty of flexibility, but navigation is frustrating. The video player is given a big screen, but file support isn't as good as it seems, the conversion software is limited and viewing angles aren't great. While competitors aren't as pretty as the P7, we feel most people will prefer the features and flexibility of the Cowon O2 or the older but still loved Archos 605 WiFi.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet