Iriver first introduced its innovative D-Click interface in 2005 with the release of the U10, the boxy predecessor to the Clix line. The company shows no signs of abandoning the system, which is used to full effect on its latest U.S. release, the LPlayer. This ultracompact MP3 player could be the offspring of a first-gen Clix and the S10, with its similar design and extensive feature list. But the LPlayer isn't exactly like its predecessors. It comes with a more reasonable starting price point: $110 for the 4GB and $160 for the 8GB.
One of the best features of the D-Click interface is that it allows for a large screen relative to the size of the device. The LPlayer measures just 1.6 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.4 inch but is dominated by a 2-inch color LCD (with a 320x240 resolution). As with the Clix, playback controls are activated by pressing around the edges of the display, with soft keys on the screen acting as guidance. On the main playback screen, pressing the top or the bottom edges shuttles through tracks, clicking the left side exits back through menus, and pushing on the right plays/pauses music. Clicking and holding the right edge takes you into a handy contextual menu where you can set the play mode (shuffle, repeat, and so on), adjust the EQ, and rate tracks on the fly (among other things). Handily, Iriver includes a dedicated volume rocker on the bottom edge of the device, next to the power button. A mini USB and standard headphone jack are embedded into the left edge, while the back houses the hold switch.
The LPlayer onscreen interface is a bit designy, though we're not as taken with it as we were with that of the Clix. You can choose between two themes for the menus, one with dot matrix text and small icons, and another with smaller, standard text and larger icons. We kind of miss the Clix's days-of-the-week theme that changed the wallpaper color from day to day. Also, you can't set your own image as wallpaper, which isn't a deal breaker but still a bit of a bummer. On the upside, the playback screen includes a wealth of information, including album art, track/album/artist listing, time elapsed/remaining, star rating, a clock, and a battery meter. Music is sorted handily by playlist, artist, album and so on, though we were experiencing a bug that caused most of our album names to display in Mandarin, despite the fact that the player's language setting and the ID3 tag info were both in English. At press time, we were waiting to hear about a fix from Iriver--stay tuned for an update.
With the exception of the MPlayer, every Iriver MP3 player is packed with features and the LPlayer doesn't deviate from this plan. It supports a variety of audio codecs (MP3, WMA, OGG, ASF, and FLAC) as well as subscription-based music from the likes of Rhapsody. You also get photo (JPEG, BMP, PNG, and GIF) and video (MPEG-4, WMV9, and XVID) playback, a text viewer, voice recording, and a built-in FM tuner with autoscan and up to 20 preset slots. There's a file browser option for those who prefer to organize music in that way, and the player has swappable MTP/UMS modes for connecting to both Windows and Mac systems. Iriver doesn't skimp on sound options, either. The LPlayer comes packed with SRS Wow HD effects, a five-band custom EQ, and seven other EQ presets, as well as the option to have music fade in and out from track to track. For audiobook and podcast listeners, there's bookmarking as well as the ability to change track playback speed and delete on the fly.
The Iriver LPlayer is a mostly impressive performer, though it's not without some issues. Namely, we found that the buttons under the edges weren't entirely responsive at times, sometimes taking several presses before registering an action. It seems that you have to click on a particular place to get a quick response on the first try--no easy feat when the actual buttons aren't visible. Also annoying is that supported video file types must be run through some software for conversion during transfer in order to work properly on the device; drag and drop isn't really an option here. The rated 12-hour battery life for music isn't awesome, either, though 4 hours for video is decent (check back for Labs results).
On the plus side, photo, video, and audio quality is good. Photos look bright and crisp, with nice color saturation. Videos look fine, though we noticed some letterboxing, which made the already small picture even smaller--not great for extended viewing. Music through our test Shure SE310s sounds solid, though not stellar. Bass is nice and tight, though not entirely thumping. You can adjust for this with the sound settings, but that tends to affect the cleanliness of the music overall. Mids are decently represented, however, the LPlayer seemed to be lacking a certain amount of warmth and richness. Highs are clear and detailed, but not sparkly. All in all, audio sounds even and will please the average listener.