iRiver’s new E100 digital media player offers a several terrific features, including a MicroSD memory slot, FLAC and OGG support, and the ability to record audio (there’s a built-in mic and a line-level input). Unfortunately, all that goodness is undermined by the device’s many flaws.
Some would argue that FLAC files are too large to use with a 4GB flash player (there's an available 8GB model, too), but sometimes we’d rather carry fewer songs (and change them out more often) than subject our ears to music ripped using a lossy codec. iRiver includes a software utility for transferring files from your PC to the E100, but the software will only recognize the player if it has been formatted in MSC mode (in which case it behaves as an external drive when connected to the PC). Subscription music services such as Rhapsody, however, require the device to be formatted in MTP mode. Since that’s how the player is shipped in the U.S. market, the software is useless for file transfers (unless you reformat the player).
We did use the software to convert some WMV files (the player supports MPEG-4, WMV9, and XVID file formats) to the player’s maximum supported resolution of 320x240, but we weren’t impressed with the results: The video was grainy and exhibited poor contrast, and bright colors—especially yellow—appeared blotchy and badly pixelated. Off-axis viewing was even worse.
When we copied a FLAC file to the device using Vista’s Windows Explorer, the OS served up an error message stating that it would gladly transfer the file to the E100, but that the device wouldn’t be capable of playing it; as it turned out, FLAC files played just fine. We experienced a slightly different problem with tracks we ripped from CD and encoded in MP3 format: This time, the album art we embedded in the tracks showed up, but it was scrambled beyond recognition. When we synced the player to our Rhapsody library, on the other hand, the album art came over without a hitch. Go figure.
Reformatting the player to MSC mode got rid of the error message when transferring FLAC files, but it didn’t solve the problem of the missing album art. In this mode, however, you can’t use the E100 with Rhapsody, nor can you use Windows Media Player 11 (or MediaMonkey ) to sync the player to your PC’s music library.
The E100 has a pair of miniature speakers built into the back of the case, but they sound so tinny that we’d recommend listening to them only if you use the built-in mic to record brief voice memos (verbal shopping lists come to mind); they’re useless for music playback. Listening to the player with a good set of headphones delivers much better results, although nothing better than we’ve heard from any number of other digital media players lately.
You control the player and navigate its menus using a set of five buttons at the bottom of the player—four are the points of the compass points and the fifth is in the center. Drilling down into the nested menus requires lots of button mashing—and just as much to back out again. But there were many times in which the device responded sluggishly to a button click, and a few occasions in which the player didn’t respond at all. Not good.
With so many very strong digital media players on the market, there’s just not much of a reason to give the iRiver E100 a second thought.
The Colorado River
Mic and line-level input, MicroSD memory slot, OGG and FLAC support.