iRiver X20

At first glance the iRiver X20 MP3 player would offer no competition whatsoever to the industry standard iPod. At $479 for 80Gb, Apple’s flagship product can be said to cost two cents for every track — assuming you fill it up — versus nearly 60 cents per track for the iRiver.

But in the consumer sphere as like no other area of technology, purchases are more emotional than financial in nature — as Apple well knows, incidentally.

And there’s definitely a market for a 2Gb music player like the iRiver X20 for those who know they’ll never need 20,000 songs in their pocket or who have no interest in watching movies made for a 40 screen on a 5-inch wide device.

The iRiver X20 is about the size of a mobile phone and takes it usability cues from the default controls Apple have set virtually in stone, with a click wheel acting as the volume knob and navigation control and generic forward/backward buttons to navigate through tracks and playlists.

As Apple has pared its player right back to basics, it’s left the field open for devices like the iRiver to fill it with add-ons. You could conceivably use it for every other feature aside from the music player such as the voice recorder or FM radio tuner and therefore have no need for a large disc.

The 2Gb disc holds about 300 songs but there’s a Micro SD slot so the capacity is limited only by your budget. It’s also pleasantly faster to transfer than you’re used to if you’re an iPod owner, copying about 800 tracks in around 10 minutes.

One of your first purchases after buying the X20 will be a better set of headphones. If you’re moving across from an iPod, Apple’s device still has the best set on the market, because for some reason no other MP3 vendor gives you a decent quality pair in the box.

You can access the disc through Windows Explorer and use it as a backup device, viewing video or photos on the screen once they’re on the unit. Progressive JPG and Mpeg files aren’t supported however, which limits the usability of the feature.

The inbuilt sound recorder can be set up to record through an attached mike or directly into the unit, putting another device in your pocket along with a music player — that of a note taker, which raises the cost analysis potential somewhat.

One positive feature iRiver could use for very cheeky marketing if it wishes is the easily accessible battery. Unlike the notorious troubles with iPod batteries, the X20 is like a mobile in that you slide the back cover off to take the battery out easily when it’s time for a new one, giving the device a measure of future-proofing.

It’s a sleek little unit that looks good. The screen has a clear picture that’s big enough for what you need to do with it and it’s easy to get around the system, one button taking you back to the default menu.

It’s a good purchase for the new inductee to the MP3 player world or the very light user.

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