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IOPS F4 (256MB review: IOPS F4 (256MB

The Good Bright, high-detail OLED; voice, FM, and line-in recording; solid FM radio reception; sleekly designed built-in USB interface; nifty extra features.

The Bad Unwieldy headphones with poor bass response; frustrating menu navigation; very slow transfer times; doesn't support DRM-protected WMAs; somewhat pricey.

The Bottom Line Despite a decent design and some fun extras, the IOPS F4 needs some further development to catch up with the competition.

6.3 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

IOPS is a small Korean company that has been making MP3 players for about two years, which makes it a young adult in the portable audio world--and how accurate a description that is. The IOPS F4 parallels a twenty-something quite nicely: it has a cool design and a wealth of fun extras, yet its interface is frustrating and some of its features are not fully realized. Plus, at $138 for the 256MB version (and a whopping $195 for 512MB), the F4 is pricier than better-known competitors from iRiver and Creative. Still, its brushed-silver-and-chrome-accented body is enviable.

At 3.1 by 1.2 by 0.5 inches, the F4 is certainly not the smallest flash player we've seen, but it is surprisingly light, weighing just more than 1.5 ounces. The controls are well laid out, though not necessarily optimally placed for one-handed use. A four-way joystick sits on the front of the device and controls volume, fast-forward/rewind, and menu functions. Along the top spine are a Hold switch, and record/A-B loop, EQ, and play/stop buttons. Oddly, these keys are labeled upside down when you're looking at the screen properly. The screen, which measures 1 inch diagonally and resides just to the left of the joystick, is one of the highlights of the player's design: It's an OLED screen with different shades of blue text on a black background. Thanks to the OLED technology, the display is very bright and viewable from any angle and is able to squeeze in plenty of textual info--there's even a clock on the main screen. Unfortunately, it's spoiled somewhat by the user interface. When navigating between folders, you have to hit FF to select a new folder, rather than pressing either Play/Stop or the joystick, which seems more logical. You get used to it eventually, but it's frustrating at first. The other standout design aspect is the built-in USB interface on the back of the player. A little sliding cover pulls back to reveal the flip-out key; it's quite handy, especially since you'll want to do most of your transferring via Windows Explorer.

Along with the F4, IOPS includes a CD that contains drivers for pre-Windows 2000 operating systems, an app called Logo Editor, which you can use to design your own moving screensavers for the player; and two MediaSync programs. These last are for media management and, aside from being confusing, did little more than slow down our system start-up. As such, we recommend using Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer for transferring music. (The player arranges music by folders, so we found that dragging and dropping albums from our My Music folder was the best way to keep tunes organized.) IOPS also throws in a case, a lanyard, a USB extension cable, a set of ungainly headphones, and a line-in cable. The F4's line-in port is smaller than the norm, so make sure you have this cable on hand for such recordings.

The F4 is fairly packed with features, but the one that we've come to expect as standard--DRM-protected WMA playback--is notably absent. Instead, the F4 supports MP3, OGG, and unsecured WMA files. Happily, this is the only major shortcoming. The F4 includes the usual playback options, such as shuffle and repeat, as well as seven EQ presets and a five-band Master EQ. More exciting, however, are the fun little extras, such as a clock (IOPS terms it a watch), an alarm, and the animated screensavers. Additionally, you get an FM tuner and the full range of recording features--FM, voice, and line-in--all of which are quite simple to use. Even better, all recordings are saved in MP3 format, and there's a function called Sync that will automatically split tracks for you. You can set the recording bit rate from 16Kbps to 192Kbps; unfortunately, the player automatically selects the sampling rate, making lower-bit-rate recordings sound abysmal.

Performance is a mixed bag for the F4, though it leans more toward good than bad. Through the included earbuds, tunes sounded flat and empty--bassless, if you will. Thankfully, there was a marked improvement when we switched in a set of our own. Music then sounded rich, full, and clean, with the proper highs and lows, and no noticeable background hiss. We also were able to crank up the volume to earsplitting levels, thanks to a 15mW-per-channel output. FM radio reception was better than average, too. CNET Labs transfer times didn't fare so well due to the F4's antiquated USB 1.1 interface; the average time was just 0.53MB per second. The player's 11.6-hour battery life is about average for a rechargeable cell.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

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