Between the P7 and the similarly priced Cowon O2, we're a little torn when it comes to each player's audio capabilities. Neither device shines in terms of touch-screen menu navigation, but we suspect the O2's AAC support is more important than its lack of ID3 song sorting (some will surely disagree).
P7 features, such as the FM radio and text reader, are nice to have, but unexceptional. The photo viewer, like most aspects of the P7, is a little sluggish. At best, transitions between photographs take 3 seconds to complete, and the image browser uses the same tiny, tedious scroll bar found on the music player.
Voice recordings are also disappointing. Recordings are made to WMA files and include the same ever-present high-pitched mechanical whine we hear on most MP3 player voice memo recorders. What's maddening is that there's no way to monitor the quality of the recordings you're making, either by hearing them over headphones in real time or by seeing a visual indication of the recording input volume. With all of the P7's screen real estate, you'd think they could slap on a nifty graphic VU to offer some reassurance that the microphone is working.
The Iriver P7's rated battery life of 35 hours of audio and 7 hours of video is impressive for a device that costs less than $200. Our CNET Labs came up with results that weren't too far off from iRiver's predictions, with an average of 37.5 hours of audio playback and 7.75 hours of video. Video and photo image quality are comparable to the Cowon O2, although we encountered dramatic screen darkening while tilting the P7's screen at an upward viewing angle. For audio, the P7's default sound is as rich as what you'll hear from an iPod or a Zune, but with enough help from the integrated EQ and suite of SRS audio enhancements, you can sweeten the sound to fit your taste.
The biggest performance disappointment of the Iriver P7 is the included PC software. Three main apps come bundled on the included CD: a firmware updater; an Iriver-branded app for transferring media to the P7; and a video converter. Under Windows XP, we installed all three applications, and had trouble with each one of them. Initially, the firmware updater wouldn't recognize the P7 and told us so with a barrage of repetitive alerts. After rebooting the computer and the P7 and switching up the device's USB protocol (switchable between UMS and MTP), we finally got the updater to stick. The Iriver media transfer software (named Iriver Plus 3) promised to transfer our music, photos, and video directly to the P7, but turned out to be utterly useless. Even the seemingly simple task of using the software to transfer music to the P7 caused repeated crashes of both the software and the device. In the end, we uninstalled the application, and opted to drag and drop our media directly to the device or use Windows Media Player.
The included movie converter application was the least disappointing of the bunch, although it required the P7 to be set in MTP mode for the software to recognize it. We also noticed that the movie application refused to recognize some of our MP4 and MOV files, which is odd for an application made expressly for converting diverse video file types.
All in all, the Iriver P7 is a beautiful looking product with an affordable price, but its features come up short on just about every front. The music player offers a lot of flexibility, but navigation is pokey. The video player is given a nice, big screen, but file support isn't as good as it seems, the conversion software is limited, and viewing angles aren't great. While competitors aren't as pretty as the P7, we feel most people will prefer the features and flexibility of the Cowon O2 or the older (but still beloved) Archos 605 WiFi.
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