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iRiver X20 review: iRiver X20

If you're looking for a lightweight MP3 player and feel you could be quite partial to the occasional video clip, don't overlook the iRiver X20 -- it has a stylish design, a great range of features and user-friendly software

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
5 min read

The iRiver X20 is a trendy contender in the growing range of popular flash-based MP3 players on the market today. With its 56mm (2.2-inch) colour LCD screen, in-line MP3 recording, simple PC software and excellent battery life, the X20 stands to be a tough opponent.


iRiver X20

The Good

Built-in speaker; stylish design; high-resolution screen; user-replaceable battery; built-in card reader; simple menus; loads of extra features such as OGG support and FM radio.

The Bad

Mechanical scroll wheel; a little clunky to hold; below average headphones; two copies of song created when using playlists.

The Bottom Line

A well-designed MP3 player with a great range of features and user-friendly software, iRiver's X20's got magnificent potential. Despite the mechanical scroll wheel taking a bit of getting used to, the size and quality of the screen makes this an adorable little MP3 player

We looked at the 2GB model, but 4GB and 8GB versions can also be bought from advancedmp3players.co.uk.

The iRiver X20 may be light, but it still feels like it's too bulky for its weight. The whole hand is needed to securely operate the player, unlike competitors such as the Samsung YP-K3 or the Sony NW-A808, which are easily held and controlled with fingertips.

The 56mm (2.2-inch) colour LCD screen is always used horizontally. As a result, all controls are on the far right-hand side, meaning the player needs to be supported by all four fingers, with the thumb doing the navigation. The screen is of a great size though, and more than justifies the ever-so-slightly awkward controls.

The front of the X20 is black and glossy, with a bright white control wheel taking centre stage, albeit on the right-hand side of the device. The wheel is stylishly backlit with a blue light.

iRiver has given this player a mechanical scroll wheel, which physically rotates. It's something of a novelty and we're not big fans. There's just not enough grip between your finger and the wheel and it's a little imprecise at landing on menu options.

Sleek and slender: the glossy black finish is very attractive

The rear of the player has a matte finish and plays host to a rarely seen feature of MP3 players: a user-replaceable battery. The back of the device looks a lot like a mobile phone, with a button-released back plate that covers the battery's dock.

Also on the back of the player is a tiny pair of stereo speakers. They are fine for showing off the odd song to your friends, but sound too tinny to replace a proper set of portable speakers.

There's also a microSD card slot, which is protected by a rubber flap.

The interface on the X20 is very simplistic. All menu icons are located on a single screen and are positioned like the numbers on a clock face. The icon of whichever option you are currently highlighting appears in the centre, fully lit and larger than the other icons on the screen. Navigating these icons requires you to rotate the mechanical scroll wheel à la iPod's Click Wheel.

Your music collection is sorted in a variety of ways: by artist, album, track name or genre. You're also given the option to play all tracks in your library by hitting a 'play all' option. Playlists are supported but in a way that could potentially halve the available space on your player: playlists are effectively treated as separate music folders and any tracks in a playlist are copied to the player again. That means you'll have one copy in your main library and one in your playlist.

The X20 supports MP3, WMA, OGG and WAV format music, along with MPEG-4 and WMV format video. It will display your favourite photos, providing they're in JPEG format.

Also crammed into the X20 is a voice recorder. Voice is recorded in the uncompressed WAV format, making it easy to recompress your recordings when transferred to the computer. Sadly, it also means file sizes are significantly larger than if recordings were compressed into WMA or MP3, and the quality is similar to AM radio, though fine for speech.

If you're interested in ripping your old vinyl collection to MP3, consider using the X20 -- it features a line-in recording option with various quality settings to choose from. There's no cable provided for this function but you can pick one up in most good audio hardware stores for £2 to £3.

We got 21 hours of continuous MP3 music playback from a complete charge of the player's battery. This is about average and certainly acceptable. Music quality gets top marks all round. Bass reproduction is powerful on the bass-heavy track Slam by Pendulum, yet mid-range and high-end tones are clear and well pronounced on the classical gem Naturaleza Muerta performed by Sarah Brightman.

Unsurprisingly, the supplied headphones are -- as stock headphones often tend to be -- a bit rubbish. You'll want to source a nicer pair if you care at all about music quality.

The high-resolution 56mm (2.2-inch) colour LCD screen is bright and comfortable to look at. Photos are automatically displayed horizontally and are incredibly crisp. Videos look fantastic too, providing they're encoded at a decent bit rate, such as 768Kbps MPEG-4 at 25 frames per second.

The high-resolution screen makes menus, images and videos look beautiful

The FM radio has a very fast auto seek function and it found all the stations in our local area. It also has space for 20 saved frequencies and reception quality is excellent.

For managing your media, iRiver includes its software. It's very simple to use, with a clean layout and a pleasant silver colour scheme. Transferring 1.5GB of MP3s to the X20 using the software took just under 8 minutes on our office computer. This is very quick and beats Samsung's competing YP-T9 by over 10 minutes.

The software takes care of your music, videos, photos and even text files. Videos are automatically converted into the appropriate MPEG-4 format within the software. The whole process is a one-click exercise that requires little experience, though it took our office computer over half an hour to convert a 30-minute video file.

The iRiver software is cleanly laid out and easy to use

With its stylish design, a great range of features and user-friendly software, the X20's got magnificent potential. Despite the mechanical scroll wheel taking a bit of getting used to, the size and quality of the screen makes this an adorable little MP3 player. Sony's NW-A808 player, however, offers comparable screen quality and video playback, but in a sleeker, tidier case and with significantly better battery life.

If you're looking for a lightweight MP3 player and feel you could be quite partial to the occasional video clip, don't overlook the iRiver X20 when making your decision.

Supplier: Advanced MP3Players.com

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield