iriver U20 (4GB) Portable Video Player - Review

iriver U20 (4GB) Portable Video Player - Review


Truly, iriver scored a win when it came up with the D-Click interface, arguably the most innovative DAP design move since the iPod scroll wheel. In fact, it was the U10's excellent user interface--combined with a host of complementing features--that pushed it to be the highest-rated MP3 player on TechTaxi.

Now, the U20 is set to overtake the throne. It's not an outstanding improvement over its predecessor, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. Coming in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB capacities at US$149.99 (S$228.49), US$199.99 (S$304.66), and US$249.99 (S$380.83) respectively, the new U20 is set to give competing flash memory players a run for the money. It's simply the best flash player on the market in terms of overall quality.

Design of the iriver U20 Portable Video Player

It's hard to say whether the design of the U20 is an improvement over the previous iteration, though it's certainly just as good. The new U20 is wider (81.3mm), shorter (45.7mm), and thinner (12.7mm) than the old one, which means it could accommodate a noticeably larger screen. However, for some reason, iriver went with the same 2.2-inch screen--it's a bit disappointing, to be honest. That said, it's a gorgeous AMOLED screen, with lovely color saturation and crisp text in a pleasant font. And you still have the option of setting the background to any photo or going with the daily color schemes, which now have a light hibiscus print.

The display is just nice to look at, especially when you're on the playback screen, which shows album art and a plethora of information: Album, artist, track, time elapsed and remaining, upcoming track name, star rating, time, and battery level. Also, in keeping with the D-Click interface, which allows you to navigate menus by pressing on the sides of the screen itself, the display offers contextual icons on each screen.

The U20 also features a variety of dedicated keys around its seam. And a seam it is: It looks like you could almost detach the face of the player from the back. This raises some concerns about durability, but it does make the U20 easy to get a grip on. The top edge houses volume buttons, while a power button and programmable hot key sit on the right spine. The requisite hold switch can be found on the bottom. The U20 also features a standard mini-USB port and headphone jack. Rather inconveniently, all of the labels for the various buttons and ports are printed on the back of the player, meaning you'll constantly be flipping it over until you commit the functions to memory. Still, there's no denying that the U20 is supremely easy to use and quite easy on the eyes as well.

Features of the iriver U20 Portable Video Player

You'd be hard pressed to find a feature the iriver U20 doesn't have. Essentially, all that's missing is wireless connectivity (which is still an alpha function, really) and line-in recording. That's where this player's limitations end, though--the U20 is packed with useful extras. You get a voice recorder and an FM tuner with autoscan and seemingly limitless presets (FM recording is also possible). There's a calendar and an alarm clock, as well as support for Flash games. Our test unit came with several titles already loaded, but keep in mind you can't listen to music while you play these games; They have their own built-in sound. If you need to keep your eyes busy, the iriver U20 delivers in that area, too. You can view text, JPEG photos, or slide shows while listening to music.

Of course, the heart of an MP3 player is its digital music playback, and the iriver U20 is no slouch in that area. The U20 supports MP3, OGG, and WMA files, including DRM-protected songs purchased from online stores such as Yahoo Music or downloaded as part of an on-the-go subscription service such as Urge and, especially, Rhapsody (more on this below). You can transfer playlists to the device or choose from two on-the-fly options: Make your own Quick List or let the player decide based on your song ratings. You can also rate songs on the fly. For music playback, the U20 offers the standard Shuffle and Repeat settings, and you can select from 13 EQ settings (Normal, Classic, Live, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Ubass, Metal, Dance, Party, Club, SRS Wow, and a user-defined mode) and preview them in real time. For those who like audio books, the U20 supports Audible content as well.

As icing on the cake, the iriver U20 supports MPEG-4 video, though there's no easy way to get this content à la iTunes. That is, you'll have to convert your files before playing them on the device. While iriver's user guide clearly documents the parameters for compatible video and describes how to transfer footage to the U20, it doesn't explain the conversion process. However, iriver's Web site has this info, along with the necessary software, called iRiviter, created not by iriver engineers but by diehard iriver fans. In our tests, the software made easy--though not exactly quick--work of several video files, but other files proved impossible to convert. Another option is to purchase an MPEG-4 encoder plug-in for WMP 11 so that the app will do the work for you (we haven't had a chance to test this out yet).

As it did with SanDisk last year, Rhapsody has now partnered with iriver to offer its DNA Platform on the new U20. In layman's terms, this means the player will offer enhanced support for Rhapsody Channels and Rhapsody's Internet radio programming. We're still waiting on the necessary firmware update, but future models will come preloaded with the capability and will feature respective Rhapsody branding on the packaging.

Performance of the iriver U20 (4GB) Portable Video Player

Plain and simple: The iriver U20 sounds fantastic. The catch, however, is that you'll need some earbuds that are up to the task. The ones included in the package offer fine playback quality, but if you really want to experience the full aural spectrum that the U20 is capable of offering, try it with some Shure SE310s. Tunes sound rich, warm, and encompassing across genres, and the high-end detail and low-end response are both impressive. The U20 also gets very loud--in fact, you'll want to watch that when switching between headphones.

The U20 also offers snappy processor performance and relatively speedy transfers over USB 2.0. The player's lovely color screen handles video playback, but there was noticeable pixilation in the sample clips. Still, color saturation and detail are good, though we still wouldn't suggest watching full-length films on such a small screen. The rated battery life of 5 hours for video and 24 hours for audio is more than adequate. Finally, the Flash games are surprisingly engaging and colorful, FM reception is excellent, and the related autoscan feature works well.