I picked up iRiver's LPlayer portable media player some time ago, just to see what other manufacturers were doing about Apple's near-monopoly of the digital audio player market. It features 8GB of flash memory and an interesting take on file system navigation.
This thing is TINY. Like, its not just small, it is positively diminutive. In terms of size, its smaller than most laptop touchpads, and not much larger than the 2" screen itself. However, its pretty pudgy, approximately twice the thickness of the venerable iPod nano. The front face is dominated by the aforementioned display, and though it appears as such, the LPlayer does not have a touch screen. Instead, the LPlayer features iRiver's patented D-Click navigation system, in which the screen acts as a 4 way directional pad, and the edges of the screen bezel are clicked to make selections, scroll menus, etc. The bottom of the LPlayer has the power button and volume controls, while the left side houses the headphone jack and mini-USB port. The back has the hold/lock slider, and the top holds a reset button. Overall, due to the lack of any major buttons, the design and look of the LPlayer is very clean.
This is where the LPlayer starts to slide - literally. The device is so small, and the screen takes up so much of the front that there isn't a natural way to hold it, so usually you pick it up by the edges, which is a lot more awkward than holding an iPod or even the similarly screen-dominated iPhone. The quality of the plastic is pretty good, and overall the construction feels solid. The only minus-point with relation to build quality is the plastic hold switch on the back; it feels very cheap and rattles a bit when moving the device. The headphone jack is placed in a very awkward location, on the lower left hand side, meaning that your hand needs to go around (or under) the headphone jack when holding it.
The D-Click directional pad works....to a point. Implemented properly, as on the previous U10 and Clix devices, its a really cool way of navigating through menus. But on the LPlayer, its extremely unresponsive, and about 30% of clicks are not registered. This makes navigation a rather painful experience, and seriously mars what would otherwise be a very functional device.
The UI is pleasant, but slow, even without the added annoyance of the unresponsive buttons. It uses a dark theme, with slick looking animations in the main menu, but browsing through file menus is a chore, with just enough lag to make the process irritating. That said, the interface and menu scheme is pretty intuitive, and shouldn't take long to master.
The features are pretty solid for a device this size, with support for most relevant audio and video codecs. Though there are many video codecs supported (including DivX, Xvid, and x264), all of these videos must be converted down to a resolution that the device can play. Codec support is nice, but conversion is annoying, and since conversion is necessary anyways, there isn't much difference here from an iPod, which only supports H.264 and .mp4 videos.
Caveats aside, audio quality is on par for the class, and video playback is quite good, though on a 2" screen, watching anything longer than a short music video or clip is probably not worth it. Watching a 1/2" sized version of Jeremy Clarkson ranting about the shortage of power in the new Ford Fiesta just doesn't do it for me, though this is a comment leveled at video playback on all small devices (iPod nano included). I'd much rather watch videos on my iPhone or a Zune, where the 3.5" screens are large enough to comfortably watch a TV show episode.
Battery life is somewhat disappointing, rated at 12 hours audio and 3 hours video. That is about half of what the similarly specced 4th gen iPod nano can manage, but given the size of the LPlayer, it makes sense that iRiver had to use a smaller battery. In the real world, the battery runs down a little quicker than iRiver suggests, with an average runtime of 10 hours for audio and 2.5 hours for video.
The iRiver LPlayer is fantastic on paper - and then you start using it. It is a device with immense potential - inexpensive, small, a good amount of storage, copious codec support, and well designed. But a slow user interface, mediocre battery life, and the unresponsiveness of the D-Click directional pad serve to annoy, and really dampen the enthusiasm I once had for this device. Given functioning D-click buttons and a redesigned UI, I would be very happy with it, but as is, I cannot recommend it over such players as the iPod nano and Zune 8.