iRiver E100 Flash-Based MP3 Player
At a Glance
The E100 handles lots of media types, but falls short in playback quality and usability.
With its cream-colored plastic casing and minimalist controls (the entire area beneath the 2.4-inch display is a four-way mechanical rocker with a small center button), iRiver's E100 resembles a slightly overweight Apple Nano--or maybe a small early-generation iPod. But its mediocre music playback quality and unintuitive interface make it an also-ran in an increasingly strong field of flash-based media players.
The E100 can play most popular audio formats (Audible, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, and WMA), but I had trouble even finding suitable video to use for my tests: The device supports only certain .avi files and variants of Windows Media (.wmv) files. It also plays FM radio, and you can configure up to 20 presets once you learn that you have to hold down the rocker on the right side in order to do so (the supplied manual proved indispensible for helping me figure this out).
The unit displays photos and text, and has an integrated microphone and a line-in jack for voice recordings. The E100 also comes with a USB cable (for transferring content and for recharging the unit's battery--there's no AC adapter) and hard earbud headphones. I tested a preproduction version of the 2GB model ($90); 4GB ($110) and 8GB ($150) editions are available as well.
To transfer content to the device, you can download the free iRiver Plus 3 desktop software from the company's Web site, but you might not need it: Another option is to use Windows Explorer to drag and drop most content into the appropriate file on the player, which shows up as a drive when connected and set to data transfer mode. Alternatively, the unit supports PlaysForSure-compliant services such as eMusic.
The desktop software was useful for converting and transferring a couple of videos from my desktop to the E100. But iRiver Plus 3 couldn't handle several Windows Media Video files, and it wasn't clear why. Still, the converted YouTube video I played on the E-100's 320-by-240-pixel display looked clear, crisp, and faithful to the original.
The same cannot be said for music playback. Anything with lots of bass or percussion produced unpleasant buzzing effects at higher volume. The buzzing didn't go away when I switched to high-end earbuds, so I don't fault the uncomfortable set bundled with the unit. Corroborating my observations, the E100 earned a score of 70 on the PC World Test Center's signal-to-noise ratio tests (where a higher number means a cleaner signal); of the players we've tested recently, only the Archos 105 did worse.
My biggest complaints about the E100, though, involve its unintuitive user interface. The way to toggle between loop and continuous play modes, for example, was not obvious; and I also couldn't figure out how to turn off the FM radio. The 46-page manual bundled with the device proved helpful, but not many buyers will have the patience to leaf through it, and many of the E100's features should be more readily accessible.
iRiver makes some slick and stylish portable music and media players, but the E100 isn't at the top of the list. Between its unprepossessing industrial design, ho-hum audio, and difficult user interface, I didn't find much to recommend it.
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