This year’s winner of CNET’s Best of CES award in the MP3 and Portable Video category was the iriver W7, a widescreen (480 x 272) digital media player that features a touch-based interface, Flash Lite 2 support, miniSD card slot, and GPS capabilities through an optional car cradle.
Already available in Korea, the 4GB/8GB flash player is said to be slated for release in Europe and the US soon. But until a firm date is given, you’d be better off paying a visit to Warehouse123.com, who bundles the 8GB device (in violet) with a charging cradle and a third-party bonus kit.
Read on for my full review.
This review is based on the W7 running Korean firmware version 1.31.
||MP3, WMA, OGG|
| Supported video:
|| WMV9 SP, MPEG-4 SP (30 fps), H.264 (Baseline),
AVI (DivX 4 and XviD)
||Speaker, photo viewer, Flash games, CSD viewer,
FM radio/recording, voice recording, dictionary,
|Display:||3.0” TFT touchscreen (480 x 272, 260K colors)|
|Dimensions:||4.35” x 2.07” x 0.59”|
If you’re wondering how it’s possible for the W7 to look incredibly familiar to you when it hasn’t been released outside of South Korea, then you’re probably remembering the iriver W10 that was supposed to go on sale in the US last summer. Although the company has never gone on record about this, many regard the W7 as the wifi-less replacement of the W10.
Whether or not the W10 has been permanently shelved, the W7 is still an attractive piece of hardware. It’s thick compared to comparable players, but its chunkiness makes for a comfortable in-hand experience and is slightly offset by a smooth plastic casing, sloped edges, and solid build.
To better illustrate the W7’s thickness and size, here it is next to a dime and AA battery:
As you can see, the W7 won’t slip into anyone’s pocket unnoticed. It’s actually closer in size to a smartphone and longer (and sometimes thicker) than most hard-drive players.
The device is equipped with a 3-inch passive touchscreen (480 x 272) that responds to taps from the included stylus, fingertips, fingernails, and any other pointed object.
The 260K-color screen offers decent viewing angles and vibrant colors, but is highly reflective outdoors and under natural lighting conditions. Ladies, if you carry the W7 in your purse, you can leave your compact mirror at home.
One of several ways to interact with the player is through its touchscreen. Though the panel is responsive to fingers, the small icons used throughout the interface are easier to target with the stylus.
The stylus measures about 3.25 inches long and is stored in a dedicated slot on the back of the unit at the bottom left corner (when the player is facing you). Those familiar with using styli may fumble when reaching for it, as stylus silos usually appear on a device’s right side.
While left-handed individuals will be delighted by the placement, for right-handed users (like me), removing the stylus is awkward and requires too many hand-position adjustments. Rotating the display orientation by 180 degrees puts the stylus at the top right corner (great), but everything else is obviously flipped upside down as well (not so great).
Since some may find a touchscreen and stylus-driven interface unappealing, the device also has a set of hardware controls that can almost be used alone.
The most obvious control, located on the front of the unit, is the four-way joystick. Its movement is smooth but requires precision and deliberate maneuvering for accuracy. For example, if the stick isn’t absolutely centered when you push it down to select an item, the system will register it as a directional command.
Below the joystick, on the right side of the unit, are a headphone jack, microphone, and USB port.
At the bottom are volume buttons (isn’t "volume up" supposed to be to the right of "volume down"?) and a reset pinhole.
A sliding hold switch, miniSD card slot, power button, and menu button at the top round out the W7’s controls. When pressed quickly, the power button cycles through the tabs in the user interface (more on this under "User Interface" below), which is a nice alternative to interacting with the touchscreen.
MiniSD card slot
Unlike the iriver E100 (microSD) and Creative ZEN (SD), audio content stored on the miniSD card can be integrated into the system’s main library. It is kept separate by default, but tapping the "Add" button when viewing the memory card’s contents (Music -> Songs tab -> folder icon -> Nand/SD icon) incorporates selected items into the database.
The W7’s user interface runs on Windows CE Core 5.0 and, as shown above, is based on tabs. As stated earlier, switching between tabs can be done by tapping on the touchscreen or quickly pressing the power button.
Instead of a home screen, the W7 has a PC-like menu system that is called up by pressing the menu button located at the top of the player. The 14-item list can be run through using the joystick or touchscreen; selecting any item launches that item’s set of tabs.
Most options are listed together under the appropriately titled Options tab, but some are accessible through small icons on the bottom of the display. Tapping them (they cannot be accessed using hardware controls) brings up an overlay like the one shown above.
The user interface isn’t as customizable as that of the iriver clix 2, but it does allow photos to be used as backgrounds and TrueType/OpenType fonts to be transferred to the unit and applied at will (Settings -> Fonts).
A nice feature of the system is that music is sorted by ID3 tags and folders. Tapping the folder icon displays all the file folders you’ve transferred to the player, while tapping the DB (database) icon displays the tracks according to their tags and sorted by title, artist, album, or genre.
The UI may lack polish and elegance, but fans of tabbed web browsing will find the W7’s tabbed interface simple to navigate and easy to understand. On the other hand, it is unlikely that technology newcomers will pick up the player and be able to use it without guidance.
Though the Korean product page lists Windows 2000/XP/Vista as OS requirements and Warehouse123.com cites MTP and MSC support, the W7 review unit I have (Korean firmware version 1.31) is strictly MSC, or mass storage class, which means cross-platform support (PC, Mac, Linux, etc.) and drag-and-drop.
When connected to a computer, the W7 and its miniSD card slot appear as removable disks, just as a standard USB flash drive would.
Clicking on the W7 icon displays the player’s pre-existing folder structure: Flash Games, Fonts, Music, Pictures, Playlists, PowerDic, Recordings, Text, and Video. Simply drag content (see "System Specifications" table above for supported formats) into the appropriate folder and you’re done.
Unlike the E100, which I think is iriver’s worst-sounding player, the W7 is consistent with the great sound quality I’ve come to expect from the company. With the help of my Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pro IEMs, my ears report that sound is clear and full, though perhaps a little uneven when not used with an equalizer or sound enhancement. It isn’t the best-sounding DAP ever made, but it’s on par with the clix 2, which was unequivocally well received and highly regarded.
In addition to five on-the-go and five rating-based playlists, the device features a 5-band user EQ, 7 preset EQs (normal, rock, jazz, pop, classic, live, ubass), SRS WOW, A-B repeat, shuffle and other playback modes, fade-in, and play speeds.
Sporting a generous 3-inch widescreen (480 x 272) display, the W7 is fantastic for watching video clips, TV shows, and even full-length movies. Playback is absolutely flawless.
The device has been able to play everything I’ve thrown at it so far, including DivX 4 and XviD movies (wrapped in AVI containers) at odd resolutions that aren’t listed as being supported. For example, both 576 x 240 and 624 x 336 video files posed no problem for the W7.
The W7 may not have any of the wireless features of the W10 and other players, but it still holds its own when all of its extra features are taken into consideration.
On the left side of the display is a mono speaker that produces surprisingly good (and loud) sound. Even at maximum volume (level 40), sound is still quite clear and acceptable for personal listening.
This is not the first iriver DAP to be equipped with a speaker, but I think it is the first to have the speaker on the face of the player.
Features of the photo viewer (JPG only) include image preview, direct deletion, slide transitions for slideshows, and the option to set a photo as wallpaper.
One of the most notable extra features of the W7 is its support of Adobe Flash Lite 2.0.2. I’m not sure why it can’t be used in the UI (as with the clix 2), but as far as I can tell, the player’s Flash Lite implementation is strictly reserved for games.
Two games are preinstalled but others can be added by copying SWF files into the Flash Games folder. Games designed for the clix 2 will run on the W7 but because they were designed for the clix 2’s 320 x 240 screen and D-Click navigational system, they aren’t a perfect fit. Likewise, although there are many 480 x 272 Flash games designed for the PSP, they’re not necessarily well suited for the W7.
Until the player becomes available outside of Korea and is embraced by an active developer community, finding a repository of compatible games will be difficult.
A bonus feature not commonly seen on DAPs is a CSD (Compact Shared Document) viewer. Akin to Adobe Acrobat Reader, the W7’s CSD viewer supports images, table of contents, bookmarks, underlining, zoom, fit to page/width/height view modes, rotation, and full-screen mode.
FM radio & recorder
One look at the FM radio screenshot above makes the W7’s tuner and recording capabilities pretty self-explanatory. FM recordings are saved in MP3 format and accessible in the Saved Recording tab.
Voice recordings are also saved in MP3 format (low, medium, and high qualities) and grouped together under the Saved Recording tab.
The microphone on the right side of the W7 isn’t very sensitive, so the voice recorder is better used as a personal note-taker rather than a device to record class lectures or live events.
Considering how popular e-dictionaries are in Asia, particularly Korea, it should come as no surprise that the W7 (which, again, has only been released in Korea so far) is packing several dictionaries in its PowerDic app.
In addition to Korean, Chinese, and Japanese dictionaries, the player’s also got an all-English dictionary, thesaurus, and usage guide for non-native speakers. Whether the dictionary will be removed when/if the player is officially released in Europe and the US is unknown.
And finally, the W7 has a text viewer that supports 40 languages, automatic page turning, and customizable font sizes (small, medium, large).
The W7’s non-removable battery puts in a respectable 22 hours for music and 5 hours for video playback before calling it a day. Actual usage time will vary according to screen brightness, bitrate, and other factors.
I’ve been feeling rather averse to conclusions lately, so please take a look at the following video (low quality) to decide for yourself whether the iriver W7 was worthy of CNET’s Best of CES 2008 award.
Until official pricing information is released for the US, the iriver W7 can be purchased from Warehouse123.com for $332 (8GB, violet, includes charging cradle).