iriver Spinn Review

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$249

Pros: Built-in Bluetooth; Large touchscreen with haptic feedback; Very good sound with SRS WOW HD; Supports drag-and-drop in Windows and Mac OS

Cons: Spinn wheel can be imprecise; Bundled software is clunky and Windows-only; Expensive given limited storage; FLAC files won't play over Bluetooth

Verdict: Iriver's pricey but innovative Spinn portable media player sports a cool new user interface and offers stereo Bluetooth for rocking out wirelessly.

With a penchant for creating intriguing interfaces, iriver's Spinn branches out from the Clix' now-familiar clickable faceplate. Combining a roomy 3.3-inch touchscreen LCD with a spinning clickable cylinder, the Spinn has more to offer than most PMPs, though it's not quite at the level of an iPod touch or even Archos 5. This player's closest competitor--and comrade in Bluetooth support--is the sexier-looking and slightly more versatile Samsung P2, though we prefer the Spinn in some ways.

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Design

The Spinn comes in a metallic silver finish and a white backing and measures 3.9 x 2.0 x 0.4 inches. The 3.3-inch, 480 x 272-pixel touchscreen takes up nearly the entire front of the player, with volume and power buttons on the left, as well as a back button and hold switch on top next to the integrated mic. The main controller, aside from the touchscreen, is a cylindrical wheel that gives you tactile feedback as you turn it to scroll and push to select. A small flap on the bottom of the Spinn hides the proprietary sync/charge connector.

The combination of the touchscreen and clickable wheel is a great idea that could be made even better by moving the wheel elsewhere on the device so the Spinn could be easier to operate with one hand. As it is, we generally had to choose one or the other method of navigation, usually opting for the precision of the touchscreen, though the wheel worked better with smaller menu items.

Interface

The text-based interface on the Spinn provided simple navigation, and you can switch the labels' icons from the Settings menu, though the UI is nowhere near as attractive as that of the iriver Clix. The device gives haptic feedback when you select items or reach the end of a list, which is something the Samsung P2 andiPod touchboth lack.

The Spinn supports both Macs and PCs via drag-and-drop, though you can use Windows Media Player or the bundled iriver Plus 3 software to sync the player and convert videos in Windows. You must use the bundled software to update the player's firmware. Unfortunately, iriver Plus 3 is confusingly laid out, and isn't as smooth or polished as Apple's excellent iTunes software.

Performance

We listened to a mixture of MP3 and WMA files with music from Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Aphex Twin, and REM, and everything sounded as good as it did on our iPod touch. (The Spinn also supports lossless formats OGG and FLAC, which should please digital audiophiles.) As expected, the included earbuds provide merely adequate sound; with high-end canalphones like the Klipsch Image, the Spinn sounded excellent. We're especially impressed with the SRS WOW HD settings, which provide an incredible amount of flexibility and a full sound comparable to that of the Sony Walkman NWZ-718F. A user-customizable 5-band graphic equalizer lets you tweak the sound even more.

We paired the Spinn with JBL Reference 610 Bluetooth stereo headphones with no problem, and although the audio suffered from too much compression (a flaw of Bluetooth, not the player), we didn't experience any dropouts from up to about 20 feet away. Oddly, we were unable to play FLAC files over Bluetooth, though other files played fine. The Spinn also gets very good reception from the built-in FM tuner, and our test FM and voice recordings came out very clear.

When we transferred a clip from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and an episode of Weeds to the Spinn, iriver Plus 3 converted the videos automatically to WMV format, though the player also handles some DivX-encoded AVI files. Converted files looked only slightly more pixelated than the original videos, and audio was well synced even when we listened on Bluetooth headphones.

JPEG photos looked excellent on the screen, and we're pleased with the slideshow and pan/zoom features. The text viewer renders TXT files well, though it won't read PDF or Word formats. The player also supports Macromedia Flash Lite 2.1 games, which you can download for free from Smashingcontent.com. Unfortunately none of the games we tried (Sudoku and Freecell Solitaire) took advantage of the touchscreen, as they were designed for the iriver Clix' clickable faceplate, though they were playable on the Spinn by using its cylindrical wheel.

Battery Life

Battery life is rated at around 24 hours for audio and 5 for video. This is average for a device this size, and in our testing, we went nearly 2 days between charges with moderate use of all features, including Bluetooth. As with most portable media players, the Spinn's battery is not user-replaceable.

Verdict

We applaud iriver for trying out new interface designs, but we do wish the Spinn's dual control methods integrated better with each other for easier one-handed operation. The Spinn's large touchscreen and good A/V quality make it a compelling companion for travelers and commuters, and built-in Bluetooth is a handy extra for gym rats and joggers.

We also like the broad feature set and inclusion of high-res FLAC support, but we wish the software were a little better organized. Also disappointing is that a video-oriented device like this doesn't come in a 16GB model. The Spinn is pricier than its competition; a 4GB Spinn costs $249, while an 8GB iPod touch runs just $229, so while it probably won't sway anyone away from Apple, the Spinn makes a formidable alternative to players like the Samsung P2.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Display 3.3 inches/480 x 272 pixels (262,000 colors)
PC Interface USB
Audio Formats APE
Audio Formats WMA
Audio Formats OGG
Audio Formats MP3
Audio Formats FLAC
Audio Formats ASF
Video Formats AVI
Video Formats Xvid
Video Formats WMV
Video Formats MPEG-4
Video Formats DivX
Photo Formats PNG
Photo Formats JPEG
Photo Formats GIF
Photo Formats BMP
Battery Type rechargable
Battery Life (audio/video): 24 hours/5 hours
Wi-Fi No
Bluetooth Yes
IR No
FM Radio Yes
FM Recording No
Voice Recording Yes
Memory Type Hard Drive
Memory Capacity 4GB
Size 3.9 x 2.0 x 0.4 inches
Weight 2.4 ounces
Company Website www.iriveramerica.com