With a space as bustling as the MP3 player market, one is bound to come across a smattering of kitschy devices. On first blush, you might be tempted to cast off Iriver's Mickey Mouse-shaped Mplayer as one of these tawdry examples of gadgetry--we certainly were. But the Disney-themed music player is surprisingly endearing in person: unique, tiny, and cute as a button. It sounds good, too, yet there's no screen, the design is not terribly durable, and at $69.99 for 1GB of built-in flash memory, the Mplayer is priced a bit higher than competitors from Creative and SanDisk.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: The Mplayer is downright adorable. CNET's in-house photographer squealed in a pitch only dogs can hear when she got her hands on it for the customary photo shoot. The device is about the size of a shooter marble, with two 0.6-inch spheres that make up Mickey's "ears." Each ear acts as a control. At the very basic level, the left ear adjusts volume, while the right toggles through tracks. There's a power button on the side of the head, as well as a reset hole. A tiny LED on the other side indicates whether the unit is on or off. A standard 3.5mm is bored into Mickey's head, along with a lanyard loop so you can sport him pendant-like with the included necklace-style earbuds. The bottom of the device features a mini USB port for syncing and charging. Iriver offers the Mplayer in an array of colors--pink, black, silver, or white--all in high-gloss plastic. None of these are decked out with a painted-on face, however; the shape alone designates the mousiness.
As you might expect, the Mplayer has very few features because of the lack of a display. It supports MP3 and WMA audio files and offers a couple of navigational settings. If you twist both ears out at the same time, you can put the player into shuffle mode and it will randomly play all songs on the device. A short twist and then a twist and hold of the track shuffle ear lets you skip through folders. The player emits a beep to indicate navigation changes.
In the music department, the Iriver Mplayer performs admirably well for such a tiny device. The rated battery life of 9 hours is nothing to write home about, but it's not out of the ordinary for a player of this size. We didn't find the included earbuds to be particularly comfortable or great-sounding, but they should suffice for younger listeners. We don't recommend this MP3 player for children younger than 4, or anyone who might be tempted to put it in his or her mouth. Or anyone clumsy, for that matter: We accidentally dropped Mickey from a height of about 4 feet and half of an ear snapped off. We were able to snap it back on, but Mickey will never be quite the same. Also, the device gets pretty loud, so it's wise to teach any children using the device about listening at moderate volume.