In the ultracompetitive MP3 player marketplace, Korean DAP manufacturer Iriver can always be counted on for two things: innovative design and feature-packed devices. The Iriver Spinn is no exception with its Spinn System Toggle Wheel, touch-screen display, and laundry list of features. At $249.99 for the 4GB model and $289.99 for the 8GB, the Spinn is perhaps the priciest flash player on the market today (by comparison, the 8GB iPod Touch costs about $229), and it's not the simplest to use, but its slick, high-quality build and variety of features may appeal to those looking for a nonstandard MP3 player with plentiful audio codec support.
The Iriver Spinn, which is dominated on the face by a 3.3-inch touch screen, is one of the most solid-feeling portable media players we've laid hands on in recent times. The unit measures 3.8 inches across, 2 inches from top to bottom, and 0.4-inch thick and is constructed mainly out of brushed magnesium, which wraps around the white plastic backplate. Inserted into the right spine is the Spinn System Toggle Wheel, a cylindrical knob you twist to navigate menu options and push in to make selections and dive through menus. A variety of other tactile controls--dedicated volume, power, and back keys and a hold switch--line the top and left edges of the player, while a proprietary USB port is concealed beneath a flap on the bottom. The standard 3.5mm headphone jack also lives on the bottom, opposite the Toggle Wheel.
The Spinn can be controlled almost entirely via the tactile controls, but the touch screen provides access to a few essential extras, such as the USB syncing mode and the contextual menu (for setting playback mode or a photo as wallpaper, for example). You may also elect to use it for most standard playback controls as well as more minute functions, such as scanning to a certain place in a file or skipping quickly through a long menu list. No matter what your navigation preference, the Spinn requires two hands, and blind navigation can be a bit tricky, unless you're using the knob to skip through tracks. However, the knob's mechanical clicks combined with a vibration feature that goes off as you reach the end of a list might be compelling to those with impaired vision. In general, though, the menu's orange font isn't terribly easy to read.
Overall use of the player takes a bit of getting used to, although U.S. users shouldn't run into many of the issues we experienced with our test unit, which did not include the MTP firmware that will be standard issue on Spinn models sold in the States. As a result, we were forced to use the included Iriver Plus 3 software to have our files' ID3 tag information recognized, which allows songs to be sorted by artist, album, playlist, and so on. The software is not great--we recommend avoiding it if you can. Units with the MTP firmware should work seamlessly with jukeboxes such as Windows Media Player and Rhapsody (they will also support subscription music services). Drag and drop is also an option, and Iriver is one of the few brands that still includes a folder navigation option on its devices, the Spinn included.
In addition to music playback (in MP3, WMA, OGG, ASF, FLAC, and APE), the SPINN has integrated podcast support (under the music menu), and it plays back photos (JPEG, BMP, PNG, and GIF) and videos (MPGE4 SP, WMV9 SP, and XVID SP). Photos look great on the large, bright 262K Color AMOLED screen (480x272), and viewing angles are excellent. Videos also look decent, though we noticed quite a bit of pixelation in the blacks. This may have to do with the transcoding, which seems to be a necessity for most files--a bummer to be sure, as it's a time-consuming process. We do appreciate the preview mode in the video menu, though. The Spinn also includes an FM tuner with autoscan, presets, and recording; a voice recorder; a text viewer; built-in Flash 2.0 for games; and stereo Bluetooth capability, which lets you listen wirelessly through compatible headphones (anything A2DP compatible should work).
The Iriver Spinn's performance is solid across the board, but we weren't really amazed by anything. The rated battery life of 25 hours for audio and 5 hours for video is more than adequate, but not stellar (check back for CNET Labs test results). During our testing, we swapped in a pair of Shure SE320 earphones for the included stock earbuds, which sound OK but aren't very comfortable. Music sounded clear and balanced across genres, with good high-end detail even during frenetic songs. Mids were nice and warm, and bass improved with some tooling of the various sound enhancement settings (the Spinn includes seven presets, a five-band custom EQ, and SRS WOW, which has several individual settings of its own). As is our policy in MP3 player testing, we used the same set of MP3s as always; given the player's propensity to play nice with lossless formats, you can expect better results if your collection is in such codecs (just keep in mind the limited 8GB of memory). Processor speed is decent in most cases, as with navigating through long lists, but photo thumbnails take a long time to load, and videos don't start up immediately (the lag is not bad, though). We appreciate the passive bookmarking function that remembers your place in videos.