So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Wide variety of file formats supported, good audio quality, simple to understand menu system
- Unintuitive controls, sluggish at times, screen not as impressive as competition
While it does the job just fine, iRiver's flash based portable media player the E100 does have a few niggling issues that set it back a notch from some of the competition.
Price$ 159.00 (AUD)
The portable media player space has stagnated a little in recent times, with Apple seemingly still in control of things. However, other companies, such as iRiver, are still fighting for their piece of the pie. This is evidenced by iRiver's latest entry-level player: the E100. Sitting firmly in the iPod nano category, this relatively petite device offers audio and video playback, as well as a picture and text viewer. While it will satisfy most user's needs in this regard it has a few interface and screen issues that stop it from being perfect.
Our main complaint is that everything feels a little sluggish. The interface, while relatively attractive, pauses quite often — particularly when navigating photos and videos. It can also be a little slow when doing basic things like scrolling through track lists.
Furthermore, it can at times be a little confusing. What iRiver has done is try to stick with the layout used on past models, such as the Clix, where arrows in each corner of the display corresponded to different functions. While that worked fine on other models, this device has a regular five-way directional pad and the end result is a world where up is left and down is right (literally) and navigation can become quite confusing. Things are a little better once you adjust, but surely it would make more sense to simply have left and right as track skip?
Aside from these issues, the E100 operates fairly well. The music player is full featured. It includes a five-band equaliser that can be tweaked manually or set using presets, shuffle and loop modes and SRS WOW audio boost. SRS WOW theoretically helps compensate for errors caused by compression in music, but we felt it gave quite a digital tone to our tunes and preferred to have it switched off.
Sound quality was good on the whole, with a fun, detailed mid range and well-controlled bass. It wasn't the best unit we've ever heard, but it was on par with competing units from companies such as Apple and Samsung.
A large variety of formats are supported, with the usual WMA and MP3 complemented by WSF, OGG and FLAC. On the video front you can play MPEG 4 and WMV 9 files; JPEGs are supported for pictures. Music can be dragged and dropped straight onto the device. However, you'll likely need to run videos through the provided iRiver conversion software to make them compatible.
The video player operates fine, but is definitely one of the weaker elements of this unit due to the fact that the screen isn't great quality. The E100 sports a 2.4in LCD display. While it is adequate for basic video watching, it feels a little archaic when lined up against the displays on new units from Apple or Creative. It lacks contrast; blacks come out more grey than they should and the overall colour balance is quite dull. The impact of this can also be felt when using the picture viewer.
One other notable feature of this model is the built-in FM tuner with all the standard options. You can store station presets as well as record directly to the internal memory, which is a nifty feature, and the reception was pretty good in our tests. Also included is a micro-SD card slot to expand the memory; however, this doesn't synchronise with the internal memory, which can be annoying.
The E100 is quite plain looking, with a small boxy build and a plain matte black colour scheme. It doesn't look at flashy as some competitors, but it does the job. The only other noteworthy design feature is the two tiny speakers on the back panel. They are pretty basic and won't be any good for day-to-day use but they suffice in a pinch.
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