If the iRiver Clix looks familiar, that's because it's simply an improved version of the iRiver U10. You get the same cool, miniature TV-like design and great features, alongside an enhanced user interface and superb integration with Windows Media Player 11 and MTV Urge. In fact, the device is launching in tandem with the media software and the music service because Microsoft, iRiver, and MTV worked closely to create the perfect symbiotic relationship between software, service, and hardware. We at CNET hesitate to call anything perfect, but iRiver comes close with the Clix. Tagged at $169.99 for the 2GB and $199.99 for the 4GB, the Clix is much more competitively priced than its predecessor. Of course, we'd love to see a 6GB or 8GB version in the near future, but if you're looking for a WMA device and don't need more than 4GB of storage, check out this MP3 player--we're enamored with it.
Early and late adopters, as well as design heads, will fall in love with the iRiver Clix's clean, futuristic 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 320x240-pixel resolution. While there are a few small buttons on the sides, users navigate the interface by pressing the four sides of the display itself. This tactile control method--iRiver refers to it as the D-Click (thus, Clix)--combined with graphical arrows that point you in the right direction, is both intuitive and logical. Indeed, compared to previous iRiver interfaces, the Clix's is refreshingly simple and easy on the eyes. It reminds us of the Olympus M:robe 500i, except that the iRiver Clix is much smaller and doesn't have a touch-sensitive screen--a good thing. The one downside to the interface is that, while one-handed operation in possible, two-handed operation is ergonomically preferable and results in fewer smudges onscreen.
Around the edges of the iRiver Clix, you'll find the remainder of the controls. On the top are the too-tiny dedicated volume buttons, along with a pinhole mic. The right side features the power button and a smart key, which acts as a shortcut to a feature of your choice; it can take you to the main menu, play and pause music, shuffle all tracks, start and stop recording, or flip the interface 90 degrees for viewing in either 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 the proprietary dock connector; iRiver bundles its own USB cable to charge the player and transfer content. The headphone jack is on the left side, and a decent set of iPod-looking headphones (white to match the Clix and accessories) comes in the package. There's also a printed manual and a quick-start disc that includes Windows Media Player (WMP) 11 with Urge.
Using the Clix within WMP 11 is wonderful experience. Even though the software is in beta and needs to work out some bugs, we had no problems syncing content to and from the player. WMP makes device management even simpler with its new gas-gauge feature, which offers a visual representation of how much space is left on the device as you drag media content to the sync window. For more information on this and other handy features, read our review of WMP 11.
If you really want to have some fun, though, use the Clix with Urge. You select music from a seemingly limitless library, and even the album art comes with each track you transfer. Like a song that's part of your subscription so much that you want to own it? Click and hold the right side to go to a list of options, and select Buy. The next time you sync the player, an Urge music store window will pop up with the song you requested.
Once you get some content onto the Clix, it's a breeze to use and a pleasure to look at. The main menu, to which you can return at any time by clicking and holding the left side, lists seven options--Extras, FM Radio, Now Playing, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Settings--and each word magnifies and lights up as you scroll over it. Once in the Music submenu, you can view content by playlist, artist, song, album, or genre. Within those submenus, the screen lists seven selections as you scroll through. The playback screen is lovely, with album art displayed to the left of the track name, the song length and time elapsed, the rating (out of five stars), the artist name and year, and the album title. Beneath this info, some faded-out text announces what song is coming next--very cool.
As an option, iRiver offers a cradle pack ($69.99) and an accessory kit ($29.99). The former 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 Clix into its bright white cradle, the whole thing looks 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. The accessory kit consists of a rubbery plastic case, an armband, a screen cloth, and stick-on pieces of film to protect the LCD. The last two are particularly useful.
The iRiver Clix is a bargain once you factor in all the features. It costs the same as the 2GB iPod Nano, yet the Clix is packed with useful extras. You get an FM tuner (with up to 20 presets) and a voice recorder; with the dock, you have an option for line-in recording. There's a calendar and an alarm clock, as well as support for Flash games. Our test unit came with several titles already loaded, but keep in mind you can't listen to music while you play these games; they have their own built-in sound. If you need to keep your eyes busy, the iRiver Clix delivers in that area too. You can view text, JPEG photos, or slide shows while listening to music. Plus, you can tinker with the background of the interface itself, choosing from seven sharp-looking color schemes based on the days of the week or an automatic setting that cycles through them each day; alternatively, you can use your own photos. We're also happy to report that the Clix, unlike the U10, supports album art, which is definitely nice to look at on the crisp color screen.
As icing on the cake, the iRiver Clix supports MPEG-4 video, though as yet, there's no easy way to get this content à la iTunes. That is, you'll have to convert your files before playing them on the device. While iRiver's user guide clearly documents the parameters for compatible video and describes how to transfer footage to the Clix, it doesn't explain the conversion process. However, iRiver's Web site has this info, along with the necessary software, called iRiviter, created not by iRiver engineers but by die-hard iRiver fans. In our tests, the software made easy--though not exactly quick--work of several video files, but others proved impossible to convert. Another option is to purchase an MPEG-4 encoder plug-in for WMP 11 so that the app will do the work for you (we haven't had a chance to test this out yet).
The heart of an MP3 player is its digital music playback, and the iRiver Clix is no slouch in that area. The Clix supports MP3, OGG, and WMA files, including songs purchased from online stores such as MSN Music or downloaded as part of an on-the-go subscription service such as Urge and Napster To Go. You can transfer playlists to the device or choose from two on-the-fly options: make your own Quick List or let the player decide based on your song ratings. You can also rate songs on the fly. For music playback, the Clix offers the standard shuffle and repeat settings, and you can select from 13 EQ settings (Normal, Classic, Live, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Ubass, Metal, Dance, Party, Club, SRS Wow, and a user-defined mode) and preview them in real time. However, there's no autoplay; that is, when you turn the player off and then on again, it doesn't automatically resume playback. If you're on the playback screen, all it takes is a simple press of the right side to start, or you must navigate to Now Playing and hit play. In both cases, the Clix resumes where it left off in the song or the video.
Thankfully, the audio features don't go to waste, because the iRiver Clix sounds great and gets really loud. We preferred our custom EQ to the flat setting, but however you slice it, you get clear highs, a defined midrange, and tangible lows. But if you really want to experience all the Clix has to offer in the sound department (especially the bass), pair it with high-end headphones; we prefer Shure's E4cs. The included earbuds sound surprisingly decent, but they're uncomfortable after 20 or 30 minutes of consecutive use. The iRiver Clix's rated 25-hour battery life is also solid, though not as good as the U10's 28 hours. Unfortunately, the U10 outperforms the Clix in practice as well; while the older player achieved an amazing 31.5 hours of playtime (music only) in CNET Labs' tests, the Clix squeezed out 18.7 hours. That's not bad, but we're disappointed that iRiver couldn't match the U10's stellar battery performance. Transfer speeds over USB 2.0 were speedy, coming in at 3.7MB per second.
Overall performance is similarly impressive in our real-world tests. The Flash games are surprisingly engaging and colorful, FM reception is excellent, and the related autoscan feature works well. Menu navigation is speedy, though you don't get the U10's accelerated scrolling through track lists. The Clix scrolls through long lists fairly quickly, but it's hindered by a lack of acceleration. Videos load speedily (comparable to the iPod), and they look nice--though small--on the bright color screen. There's no video-out option, but clips formatted for the Clix's display would no doubt look subpar on a full-size screen anyway.