It's tempting to copy Apple's designs, but usually the process is a little more guarded than this. The 1GB IPocket (also available as a 2GB model for £87) is one of those MP3 players that has taken the idea of homage to its natural conclusion: imitation. The similarities between this chassis and that of the iPod are difficult to ignore. Inovix has put itself in a difficult position -- in highlighting the player's relationship to the nano, it invites direct comparison. When you consider that some of the most innovative non-Apple MP3 players we've tested have failed to match the ease-of-use that Apple's simple Click Wheel design offers, it's a risky proposal.
If you've seen the iPod nano, you'll know everything you need to about the IPocket. The only major difference between the two players is the absence of the Click Wheel, and its replacement with a large cross. The front panel on the player is completely seamless, like the nano's, but the control pad physically depresses, like the directional pad on a games console.
It's much harder to scratch the IPocket than the nano, although we did manage to scar the plastic over the LCD screen with a little clump of unknown fluid. Having said that, we did some basic scratch testing to compare the IPocket to the nano and it fared extremely well. Bar the scarring incident, the IPocket's plastic coating is a significant improvement over the nano's -- coins; a screwdriver; keys -- none of these marked it.
Apple should take a look into what Inovix is using to coat this, it's the perfect opportunity to return the favour of 'borrowing' design ideas. Fine scratches are visible if you hold the IPocket at an angle, but it's a world apart from the Passion-of-the-MP3-player look the nano gets after a few days use without a case.
The IPocket can assemble playlists, but the system for doing this is not easily navigated. In fact, after several days with the player we still struggled to get the device to list tracks in a hierarchical menu system, something all other players manage without complication.
There're some interesting graphical flourishes to the interface, including a crazy-eyed bear cartoon character that waves goodbye to you when you switch the player off, and a photographic Japanese girl who bats her eyelids at you when songs are playing.
For transferring music to the player, the IPocket uses a USB cable with a proprietary connector. The connection method is fairly self-evident, most computers with a USB port will have no problem connecting to the device.
Inovix has included an elaborate equaliser on the player. Usually this kind of feature is either an attention grabber for specification junkies or hints at a problem with the audio output stage of the player. If an MP3 player is delivering sound output as it should, then you won't normally need to adjust the equaliser -- that was the job of the engineer in the studio where the music was recorded. Still, if you do need to counteract the shortcomings of a badly ripped MP3 or a pair of cheap headphones, this feature could improve things.
In our tests, sound quality on the Inovix compared well with players like the Jens of Sweden MP-500, but fell a little short of the iPod. We ran both players through flat-response studio monitors to compare the sound and found the IPocket lacked detail on tracks like Ed Harcourt's This One's For You. Auditioning punchier songs, the differences became clearer. Ben Folds Five's Rockin' the Suburbs lost mid-range clout on the IPocket, and the low-end drifted. Some of the tone could be rescued by fiddling with the equaliser on a song-by-song basis -- far from ideal.
The IPocket is acceptable for voice recording, but the range you'll get with it falls just short of a metre before things get too muffled to hear. Battery life on the IPocket is quoted at around 8 hours.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield