Just by looking at the iriver E100's expansive feature set--built-in stereo speakers, line-in recording, microSD Card slot, FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) support--it appears to be a compelling option for music fans. A wonky control pad and pedestrian design, however, keep the E100 from being a premier portable music player.
Measuring 3.6 x 1.8 x 0.4 inches and weighing just 2.1 ounces, the iriver E100 slides easily into a shirt or pants pocket without adding too much bulk. Our pink unit (it's also available in Black, Chocolate, Sky Blue, and White) featured a 2.4-inch TFT LCD that's nearly half an inch larger than the iPod nano's, but photos and video still looked cramped on the 320 x 240-pixel screen. Colors were rich, but the on-screen image became distorted if we moved even a little left or right of center, not that you'd ever have to. The nondescript design reminds us of the Microsoft Zune minus the slickness, and the plastic body feels cheap. It definitely won't incite envy from iPod nano users.
Interface and Features
The iriver E100's interface utilizes a simple monochrome sliding icon system that lets you access different areas of the player using the directional pad located below the LCD. The pad can be unresponsive; you need to make very precise presses for your inputs to be recognized. Nailing the confirmation button located in the middle of the D-pad is equally troublesome.
Syncing with the E100
You can operate the E100 in two modes: The default MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) mode lets you use Windows Media Player 11 or the iriverplus3 software (both are included on a bundled disc) to manage and sync files. If you're more keen on dragging and dropping, you can switch the E100 to MSC (Mass Storage Class) mode, which also opens up compatibility with Linux and Mac OS X operating systems. iRiver includes a microSD Card slot on the top of the player for loading additional content.
Format Support and Extra Features
Users can play a wide variety of multimedia on the E100; the device supports ASF, FLAC, MP3, OGG Q10, and WMA audio formats and BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, MPEG-4, WMV9, and Xvid photo and video formats. If you want to play back any other video types, you must first convert them into WMV format using the included Movie Converter software. The iriver E100 is also compatible with all-you-can eat subscription services; we easily synced Sade's "Pearls" from Rhapsody To Go to the E100. iRiver tosses in a line-in port, a voice recorder that records in the WMA format, and a text file reader.
The overall audio quality from both the bundled earbuds and integrated speakers was ho-hum, and the bass quickly became distorted as we raised the volume. The included earbuds are straight from the iPod school of design: white, hard on the ears, and poor-fitting. When you unplug the earbuds while a song is playing, the audio is automatically channeled through the stereo speakers built into the back of the player. This can be either very handy when wanting to fill your cubicle with music, or quite embarrassing when your favorite guilty-pleasure song blares unexpectedly after you accidentally yank out the cord.
If you're in the mood for live radio, the iriver E100 features an FM tuner for listening to your favorite stations. Surprisingly, most of the stations came in clearly while we were in our office and walking around midtown Manhattan, and you can save up to 20 presets.
Priced at $109, the E100 is $40 cheaper than the iPod nano, but we prefer other alternatives to Apple's leading portable audio player. In fact, the4GB SanDisk Sansa Fuzeis $10 less and one-ups iriver's offering with superior audio quality, a far more attractive design, and a smooth, intuitive control scheme.