The competitively small iRiver S10 came hot on the heels of the Apple iPod Shuffle--in Asia, anyway. Now, iRiver is selling the stylish 2GB Flash player stateside and it's much of what we expected: feature-packed with a cool interface and great sound quality. However, some may find the $170 price tag daunting (Creative's 2GB Zen V Plus goes for about $110 by comparison) and others may scoff at the paltry eight-hour battery life. Still, if you lust after tiny tech, you'll definitely want to give the S10 a look.
No denying the iRiver S10 is cute, though some might find that it borders on ridiculousness in its minuteness. At 1.7x1.2x0.4 inches, it's just a hair larger than the iPod Shuffle but just as easy to misplace. In fact, I daresay the S10's a bit easier to lose track of due to its black coloring, which causes it to blend into dark surfaces and areas. Still, if you're looking for a tiny MP3 player that can be easily passed off as a pendant, this one fits the bill. Plus, unlike the Shuffle, the S10 offers a crisp color OLED screen--one that's rather larger than that of the MobiBlu Cube2 at 1.2-inches. Oddly, iRiver chose to orient the screen in portrait mode, which requires constant scrolling of longer text on the display. Unfortunately, there's no option to switch to landscape.
iRiver was able to squeeze a relatively ample screen onto the itty-bitty player by utilizing the innovative D-Click interface, which is the same as that found on the Clix. In order to navigate among the S10's menus, you click on the four edges of the screen. Little contextual graphics appear within the various screens and menus to indicate which side accomplishes what. On the playback screen, for example, pressing up on the display goes back one track, clicking down shuttles forward, and pressing right pauses playback. Dedicated buttons for power and volume sit on the right and left spine, a standard headphone jack and lanyard loop are embedded into the top, and a pinhole mic can be found on the bottom edge. There's no obvious hold switch; instead, you press both volume keys at the same time to lock the controls. Unlike the Clix, the S10 does not use the Creative-patented interface that allows you to step down through genres, artists, and albums. Instead, you get old-school folder tree navigation.
Considering the size of the device, iRiver managed to pack a fair amount of features into the S10. There's an FM tuner with autoscan and presets, and a built-in clock means you even schedule recordings for radio shows. (You can also use it as an alarm if you have it hooked up to speakers.) The player also supports photos, but only in BMP format; photos look surprisingly decent on the little screen with good clarity and color saturation (but, really, don't expect to notice much detail on such a small display). Of course, you get the requisite audio playback: the S10 supports MP3, WMA, ASF, and OGG. The player offers a plethora of sound settings for tweaking audio to your liking. There are 10 preset EQs (Normal, Classic, Live, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Ubass, Metal, Dance, Party), a five-band custom EQ, and SRS Wow sound effects. Plus, the S10 supports playlists and you can create a quick list on the fly.
There are a few things missing from the S10. There's no support for DRM-protected files purchased or rented from online music stores, and there's no simple way to shuffle all songs. (Check out our Tips & Tricks for steps on how to shuffle playback on the S10.) Plus, there's no standard USB port. Instead, you must use the included adapter to sync through the headphone jack--don't lose that! Also missing is support for Mac operating systems.
My only other major complaint is about battery life; the S10 is rated for a paltry eight hours. CNET Labs managed to beat this time by an hour, which is nice, but nine hours still isn't all that great. Of course, with a player this small, you've got to expect a tiny battery to match. Other performance is much more impressive. Processor speed and transfer times are snappy, and sound quality is topnotch, as has been the habit of iRiver players. I suggest swapping in a pair of quality earbuds, such as Shure's E4cs, to replace the stock set that comes with the unit. If you do, you'll be rewarded with rich, warm audio that offers satisfying bass response and plenty of high-end detail.