Iriver_p7_review

When the iriver P7 was first announced at CES 2009, it was easily my favorite portable media player on display at the company's booth. I was intrigued by its magazine-like interface, pleased by its microSD card slot, and impressed by its wide array of codec support.

The P7 is now in stock and shipping from Warehouse123.com, who sell the 8GB and 16GB versions for $145 and $187, respectively. But now that the 4.3-inch touchscreen player is out of the showroom lights and in my hands, does it still fare as well? Read my full review below to find out.

Iriver_p7_pkg

This review is based on the iriver P7 running firmware version 1.13.

System Specifications

Capacities:
4GB, 8GB, 16GB
Expansion:
microSD card slot
Supported audio:
MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, WAV
Supported video:
XviD, DivX, WMV7/8/9, MPEG-1/2/4
Extras:
Photo viewer, FM radio, FM and voice recorder, text viewer,
calendar, calculator, world clock
Display: 4.3" TFT touchscreen (480 x 272, 260K colors)
Dimensions: 4.42" x 2.89" x 0.54"
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Colors:
Silver

Box Contents

The P7 is packaged in a reusable plastic case.

Iriver_p7_unbox 

Iriver_p7_contents 

A glossy orange insert separates the player from the included accessories: stylus, installation CD, quick start guide, warranty booklet, earphones, and proprietary 24-pin USB cable.

Design

Iriver_p7_des1 

Whether it's the powder-finished pressed aluminum body, sharp edges and corners, or exposed screws, the iriver P7 looks more industrial than stylish to me. Though the company is definitely returning to the tradition of producing solidly built devices it briefly abandoned during that unfortunate "cheap plastic phase," it still seems to be struggling a bit in the design department.

Iriver_p7_des2 

Sure, the P7 is a clean-looking player with no unsightly protrusions. There's just not anything particularly noteworthy or striking about its design. It simply looks like a rectangle: no flourishes, no subtleties, nothing. Coming from a company that used to be known for its innovation, this is disappointing.

Size

Iriver_p7_dime  

Because of its size and form factor, the P7 is better classified as a full-fledged PMP than a DAP. To illustrate that, here it is with a few Archos PMPs and some other DAPs:

Iriver_p7_comp1

Clockwise from top right: Archos 5, Archos 405, Archos 604 WiFi, iriver P7.

Iriver_p7_comp2 

Top to bottom: iriver P7, Archos 405, Archos 5, Archos 604 WiFi.

Iriver_p7_comp3 

Left to right: iriver P7, Cowon S9, Samsung P3, iriver E50, SanDisk Sansa Fuze.

Display

Since the iriver P7 is nearly all screen and most of the controls are touch-based, it's important that its display be a good one. Fortunately, it is.

Iriver_p7_display 

It's recessed, which makes the edges and corners difficult to press and a magnet for dust, but it's responsive and of decent quality.

Iriver_p7_screen 

Compared to an AMOLED or a screen that displays 16M colors, the P7's 4.3-inch TFT looks decidedly washed out and dull. On its own, however, it's reasonably bright and colorful. I don't think it would impress anyone, but it's fine from a normal viewing distance. Up close, it becomes obvious that the 480 x 272 resolution is too low; 800 x 480 would have been a much better choice.

Controls

Iriver_p7_stylus 

The touchscreen responds equally well to fingertips, fingernails, and finger pads, so there's really no reason to use the metal stylus, which has an incredibly cumbersome threaded cap and no dedicated place to store it on the player. Most targets are very well optimized for the finger, and taps on the screen are recognized and registered immediately.

The biggest drawback to the screen is that it doesn't support momentum-based scrolling; the absence of this feature makes scrolling through long lists tedious.

Iriver_p7_topbuttons 

Returning to the main menu screen from anywhere in the system is simple to do using the touchscreen (a dedicated M button is always in the top right corner of the screen), but there's also an M hardware button that performs the same function. A small raised dot beside the printed letter makes locating the button easy, even when done blindly.

To the left of the menu button at the top of the player are dedicated volume up/down controls.

Iriver_p7_power 

The power button is on the opposite end of the menu and volume buttons.

Iriver_p7_right 

On the left side of the device are a covered microSD card slot and reset hole, hold switch, lanyard loop, microphone, and standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Nothing but an exposed screw is on the right side.

Iriver_p7_connector 

A 24-pin USB port, covered by a sliding door, is on the bottom of the player.

Iriver_p7_back 

And on the back is a small mono speaker.

User Interface

Iriver uses the "like a magazine" tagline to describe the P7's user interface, which is composed of large widget-style blocks/tiles.

Iriver_p7_ui 

Eight dynamic tiles make up the main menu: Extra (clock, calendar, calculator, world clock), Video, Photo, Music, FM Radio, Text, Voice Recorder, and Setting. The tiles cannot be rearranged or skinned, but most of the information shown within them changes according to what was last accessed. For example, the album art and song title of the last track you played will appear in the Music tile. This helps to keep the main menu from getting too stale, as the tiles will often display different images and info.

What I like most about this magazine layout is that everything is equally accessible. On some players, certain functions require a few extra clicks to access them. On the P7, everything the player has to offer is a single tap away.

Iriver_p7_muslist

Beneath the primary media tiles is a standard list-style interface with finger-friendly icons and large easy-to-read text.

Iriver_p7_settings

When applicable, the orange square in the top left corner of the screen displays a white circle. Pressing this circle displays a context menu with additional features:

  • Music – SRS WOW HD, User EQ, Fade-In
  • Video – Aspect Ratio, Video Option (navigation speed and playback mode), Subtitle
  • Photo – Image Delay, Slide Transitions, Screen Fit
  • FM Radio – Auto Search, Reception Area, Recording Quality
  • Recorder – Recording Quality
  • Text – Font Size, Auto Scroll Speed, Language

The user interface is responsive, straightforward, and easy to use with very little instruction. Everything makes sense and is where you expect it to be. The menus are consistent throughout the system as well, which adds to the player's ease of use.

Transferring Content

Iriver_p7_set

The iriver P7 supports both MSC/UMS and MTP connections (Settings -> Advanced), so it is compatible with all platforms and operating systems. Windows users can use either connection type and still drag-and-drop content without the use of software; certain software, such as Windows Media Player, requires an MTP connection. Linux and Mac users must set the P7 to MSC, which allows the player to be seen in the same way as a USB flash drive or external hard drive.

Iriver_p7_removable 

In MSC mode, my personal preference, the P7 shows up as a device with removable storage in Vista.

Iriver_p7_msc 

Clicking the P7 drive icon opens the existing folder structure. Media can be transferred to the appropriate folder via standard drag-and-drop.

MicroSD Card

Another way to load content onto the player is through a microSD card.

Iriver_p7_microsd 

When the Music Browser Type (Settings -> Advanced) is set to "DB Type," music stored on a microSD card is fully integrated with the music stored in the internal memory and organized according to ID3 tag. Music is not integrated if the Music Browser Type is set to "Folder Type."

Iriver_p7_microsd2 

Oddly, all other media content (video, photos, etc.) is kept separate regardless of Music Browser Type. I use "DB Type" on my P7 so that my music is fully integrated and everything else is separate. It would make more sense for "DB Type" to integrate all media, but it's more important to me that my music library is cohesive so I don't mind too much.

Audio

Iriver products don't have the best audio quality, but they're still pretty well regarded by most people who use a decent set of earbuds (sub-$100 or so). With a premium pair of canalphones ($400 to $500 range), however, it's immediately evident that the sound quality is lackluster without the use of the preset EQs, 7-band user EQ, or SRS WOW HD audio enhancements.

I personally use Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10 Pro earphones with all of my DAPs/PMPs, but I also have a pair of super.fi 5 Pro and Sennheiser CX300S for comparison purposes. Obviously, because the P7 doesn't output stellar audio quality, it sounds better with low-end earphones that mask the "flaws" and make the player sound rich and full. With the triple.fi 10 Pro and a flat EQ, lows are muddy, mids are exaggerated, and highs are dull. Everything in general sounds a bit cloudy. Fortunately, things start to clear up when the audio enhancements are enabled. With the right settings, the iriver P7 can sound very good: balanced and warm with a hint of sparkle.

Iriver_p7_mus1 

The music playback screen makes full use of the P7's large screen. In the screenshot above, the two "Normal" boxes and the adjacent star box correspond to the current playback mode, EQ settings, and rating.

Iriver_p7_musplay

Iriver_p7_mus2

Album art can be "swiped" to display the current playlist and songs can be added to a single QuickList on the fly. The player also supports multiple bookmarks and A-B repeat.

Video

Where the iriver P7 really excels is video support. Here's a more detailed look at the impressive list of supported codecs, resolutions, and containers.

Iriver_p7_video_support 

Except for HD content, then, the P7 should have no trouble playing just about anything thrown at it. All of my movies are in XviD and DivX format, so conversion isn't necessary to get them playing smoothly.

Iriver_p7_bookmark 

Playback features include multiple bookmark support, fast-forward/rewind, previous/next video, aspect ratio (original, full screen, no zoom), scan speed (1x, 2x, 4x, 8x), play mode (normal, sequential, repeat), and subtitle display (color, size, position, language).

Extras

Compared to other touchscreen digital media players, the iriver P7's extra feature set is pretty standard fare. Unlike other devices that support Bluetooth, Flash files, games, or widgets/applications, the P7 offers nothing new or unique.

Iriver_p7_photos 

Extras include a photo viewer, FM radio, FM and voice recorder, text viewer, calendar, calculator, and world clock, all of which are exactly what you would expect them to be. The photo viewer plays slideshows, FM and voice recordings are in WMA format (64kbps, 96kbps, 128kbps), the text viewer supports auto-scrolling, and the calendar is a read-only monthly view affair.

Battery Life

The non-removable lithium polymer battery in the P7 is said to deliver up to 35 hours of audio (early specs indicated 50 hours, which is inaccurate) and 7 hours of video playback time. Actual runtime varies according to usage.

Conclusion

Except for the extensive video codec support and microSD slot, nothing about the iriver P7 really stands out to me. It's a solid device that does everything it's supposed to do reasonably well, but there are simply better DAPs/PMPs on the market that do more than just meet expectations. They exceed them.

Iriver_p7_final 

If we assume that the P7 is iriver's current flagship product and compare it with other companies' flagship players (e.g., Archos 5, Samsung P3, Cowon S9, Apple iPod touch), it becomes quite clear how basic and almost boring the P7 is. The magazine-style UI is interesting and something iriver has never done before, but if the tile sizes were standardized, it would be the same as a normal grid-style interface.

The iriver P7 is a good PMP for the price, but it's definitely not great.

The P7 is available now from Warehouse123.com for $145 (8GB) and $187 (16GB). Warehouse123 also includes a free bonus kit that currently contains a 4GB Toshiba microSD card, Sony earphones, and other items.