Smaller than a cigarette lighter (1.1 by 2.5 by 0.5 inches and 0.8 ounces), cased in black metal with silver accents, and bearing a mirror-finish OEL screen, the iRiver N10 is the most attractive pendant-style MP3 player you'll find. Indeed, it's designed to be worn around your neck like a high-tech piece of jewelry. To that end, the N10 includes a lanyard with integrated earbuds that use a proprietary connection. The earbuds are better that most prepackaged sets, but if you want to go with your own headphones, the package includes an alternate adapter that accepts standard ones--simply push the Eject button, and lift the adapter off the top of the unit. The N10 is too small to hold even a single AAA battery, but the player's internal lithium-polymer cell charges through your computer's USB connection. Unfortunately, there's no option to charge via a wall outlet. The hypnotic screen displays blue text on a black background.
The N10 supports MP3, ASF, and unprotected WMA files, so you can't play songs bought from online stores such as Napster. Though iRiver has garnered critical acclaim for making its products feature-rich, it has also inspired its share of disdain for stuffing them with a dense interface that only techies could love. Among the many features in the N10, you get eight EQ presets, such as Xtreme EQ and Xtreme 3D settings; an EQ limit function to prevent distortion; timers to power the player on or off; variable playback speeds; and a variety of screensavers, including depictions of a level meter and lightning bolts. There's also a built-in mic for taking voice notes. The interface isn't as confusing as that of some other iRiver products, but users may still find the navigation a little frustrating. For example, you activate Xtreme EQ and 3D in one submenu but make adjustments to those settings in another one.
More annoying than the interface is the iRiver Music Manager (IMM) software. The first time you connect the player to your PC, Windows needs you to find the proper device drivers--even after you install IMM. Make sure you select the proper driver (for Windows XP users, it's the one with XP in the middle of the long filename), or the software won't recognize the player. At any rate, IMM seems superfluous because it doesn't load your music into its own jukebox; rather, you find files in your Windows folders. It would be just as well to transfer files through Windows Explorer, but without Universal Mass Storage (UMS) support, the N10 doesn't register as an external storage device.
The N10 shines in sound quality, however, thanks in part to the wealth of EQ settings. The 90dB signal-to-noise ratio is average, but various styles of music sound clean, with good bass and treble response. A headphone output of 18mW per channel means the volume cranks high even with a pair of full-size headphones. In CNET Labs' tests, the N10 scored an uninspiring average transfer speed of 0.61MB per second over a USB 1.1 connection. Battery life was also disappointing. The rated 11 hours of continuous playback was chintzy for a flash-based player, and we squeezed out only 10.1 hours of use in our tests.