Style and substance: iRiver U10
After appearing in Asia in the early months of summer this year, the iRiver U10 has finally made its U.S. debut. The distinctive flash-based player comes in 512MB and 1GB capacities--at $199.95 and $249.95, respectively--and is packed with features. Its compact, miniature TV-like design also represents a departure from not only previous iRiver products but also MP3 players in general. Although we'd like to see a lower price point and higher capacity options (for example, a 4GB version for $249.95), we have to admit that we're enamored with the sleek and stylish iRiver U10. Both early and late adopters, not to mention design heads, will fall in love with the iRiver U10's futuristic industrial look. The compact player measures 2.7 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches, weighs 2.5 ounces, and features a bright and colorful 2.2-inch display with a resolution of 320x240 pixels. While there are a few buttons on the sides, users navigate the interface by pressing on the four sides of the display itself. Referred to by iRiver as the D-Click, this tactile control method, combined with graphical arrows pointing you in the right direction, is both intuitive and logical. Indeed, compared to previous iRiver interfaces, the U10's is refreshingly simple and easy on the eyes. It reminds us of the Olympus M:robe 500i's, except that the iRiver U10 is much smaller and does not have a touch-sensitive screen--a good thing. The one downside to the overall interface setup is that, while one-handed operation in possible, two-handed operation is ergonomically preferable and causes less screen smudging.
Around the edges of the iRiver U10, you'll find the remainder of the controls. On the top are the too-tiny dedicated volume buttons, along with a pinhole mic, while the right side features the power button and a key that flips the interface 90 degrees so that you can use the U10 in landscape or portrait modes. A hold switch on the bottom of the player rounds out the controls. Beside this switch are the Reset hole and proprietary dock connector; sorry, there's no standard USB port here. The headphone jack is on the left side. A relatively decent set of iPod-looking headphones (white to match the U10 and accessories) is included in the package, along with a proprietary USB cable that serves to charge the player and transfer content. There's also a printed manual and an install disc for a music-management app called iRiver Plus 2, which is decent enough, but you're probably better off with Windows Media Player. Note that when you hook up the iRiver U10 for transferring, the player must be turned on; otherwise, it will just start charging with no data option.
As an option, iRiver is also offering a cradle pack. This separate accessories bundle includes an IR remote, a retro-looking docking cradle, a USB cable, and a minijack-to-minijack cable for line-in recordings, which are possible with only the dock. Once you pop the iRiver U10 into its bright white cradle, the whole thing ends up looking like a mini TV, complete with built-in speakers. There's even a snooze button on top for the onboard alarm clock. On the back, you'll find line-in and line-out jacks as well as a mini USB port. If there's one complaint we have about the cradle, it's that the pass-through on the back is a standard mini USB port, meaning it requires a different USB cable than the U10's. And given the U10's price tag, it would be so much sweeter if the cradle were a bundled accessory.