Review: iriver SPINN

Iriver_spinn_review

Out of all the new digital media players shown off by iriver at CES 2008, the SPINN was probably the one that consumers were most excited about. Whether it was the way its first video demo “killed without words” or simply that people were intrigued by its unique wheel control, many have been waiting to get their hands on the flash-based player for months.

Good news for the impatient: the wait came to an end a few weeks ago. The iriver SPINN is now shipping worldwide in 4GB and 8GB capacities from Warehouse123.com.

But do good things really come to those who wait?

Iriver_spinn_box

This review is based on the SPINN running firmware version 1.21.

System Specifications

Capacities:
4GB, 8GB
Supported audio:
MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, APE, ASF
Supported video:
MPEG4-SP, WMV9 SP
Extras:
Flash games, Bluetooth, photo viewer, FM radio,
FM and voice recorder, text viewer
Display: 3.3″ AMOLED touchscreen (480 x 272)
Dimensions: 3.9” x 2.0” x 0.4”
Weight: 2.5 ounces

Contents

Iriver_spinn_contents

Included with the SPINN is iriver’s usual fare: earphones, proprietary USB cable, mini software CD, quick start guide, and warranty booklet.

Design

Iriver_spinn_des1

Iriver_spinn_des2

Looking decidedly less shiny than in early photos, the SPINN is a mixture of white matte plastic and various shades of silver metal. It feels very durable and is much better built than many of iriver’s recent products.

Iriver_spinn_des3

The edges are a little sharp, giving the SPINN a somewhat industrial look, but the hardware and form factor are undeniably striking.

Iriver_spinn_lipgloss

I don’t care for the design myself, as I can’t look at it without seeing a tube of lip gloss attached to a screen, but that’s just me.

Size

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Iriver_spinn_irivcomp

Iriver_spinn_comp1

Iriver_spinn_comp2

Display

Ever since the clix 2 swept me off my feet 1.5 years ago, I’ve been waiting for iriver to make another player with an AMOLED (active-matrix OLED) screen. AMOLEDs are superior to regular LCDs because they offer unlimited viewing angles, display colors more vibrantly, and are just brighter and more energy efficient. Needless to say, I was thrilled when iriver announced not just that the SPINN would be equipped with an AMOLED, but that it was bigger and had a higher resolution than the clix 2. My expectations were high.

Iriver_spinn_display

But while the clix 2 thoroughly wowed me with its screen, the SPINN left me feeling just a little disappointed. The display is amazing, especially for a touchscreen, but it doesn’t look as good as the clix 2. Not to me, anyway. Take a look at these comparison pictures, for example, and I think you’ll see that the SPINN looks darker and less vivid. Maybe if the screen supported 16.7M rather than just 65K or 262K colors (both have been cited as part of the “official” specs), the clix 2 could have been dethroned. As it stands, however, the SPINN does not have the most beautiful display I’ve ever seen.

But it does have the only AMOLED touchscreen I’ve ever seen . . .

Controls

Though the touchscreen is fairly responsive and offers haptic feedback, the SPINN is better controlled using the hardware buttons and, of course, the player’s namesake: the “spinning” cylinder that iriver calls the wheel.

Iriver_spinn_wheel

Iriver_spinn_aa

Truth be told, the SPINN should’ve been called the TURNN. The metal wheel doesn’t really spin; it turns (in both directions) and clicks as it passes over 12 hidden notches/grooves. Turning isn’t quite as fun as freely spinning, perhaps, but it allows for quick yet controlled scrolling.

The entire wheel also doubles as a giant OK button. A quick press selects an item, while a press and hold performs one of five Smart Key operations: displaying the “Now Playing” screen, playing/pausing, switching the display orientation, starting/stopping recording, or turning the display on/off. When the player is in hold mode, the wheel can also be used to control the volume.

While the wheel is undeniably versatile, it obviously can’t do everything. That’s where the rest of the ports and buttons on the SPINN come into play.

Iriver_spinn_top

At the top of the player are the mic, back button, and hold switch.

Iriver_spinn_bottom

A proprietary USB port and standard 3.5mm headphone jack are on the bottom.

Iriver_spinn_left

On the left are volume controls and the power button.

Iriver_spinn_back

And on the back is the reset pinhole.

User Interface

As with the iriver clix 2 and a few other players, the SPINN supports user-created themes (including fonts, images, and icons) designed in Adobe Flash Lite 2.1. The clix 2 came with six insanely colorful themes, each with seven different wallpapers, but the SPINN ships with only a dull gray-and-orange interface that makes a very weak first impression.

Iriver_spinn_uipic

Iriver_spinn_ui

The interface is very usable, responsive, and well designed for the wheel control, but it isn’t completely optimized for finger use. In fact, some elements are so small that I had to check the box again to make sure I didn’t overlook a stylus (iriver designed a stylus-driven interface for the W7, so I thought it was a possibility).

Main menu and submenu items are listed horizontally, while media content and context menu items are listed vertically. It feels strange at first that the same action (i.e., spinning the wheel) performs both left-to-right and up-and-down movements, but it’s easy enough to get used to. See the SPINN in action on YouTube.

Transferring Content

The iriver SPINN is both MTP- and MSC-compliant, which means that there are no restrictions on how content can be transferred from a computer. MTP is for PC users who prefer Windows Media Player, Rhapsody, and other music management software, while MSC is for people who use other operating systems and/or Windows users who want the SPINN to appear under the “devices with removable storage” section in My Computer. MSC is also required to use the supplied iriver plus 3 software.

Iriver_spinn_msc

Both connection types support drag-and-drop, but software is needed for more advanced features like syncing and playlist management.

Audio

Except for the E100, great sound quality has always been a hallmark of iriver products. Their DAPs don’t have the best sound quality, but it’s definitely above average and more than satisfactory for casual listeners who use stock buds or a low-end set of IEMs.

With my Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pro and careful listening, however, the SPINN doesn’t sound as bright or balanced as something like the Sansa Fuze/Clip. If music were a tangible object, I’d say that on the SPINN it sounds like it’s been covered by a thin layer of plastic wrap. I get the sense that if the “film” could be lifted, the mids would sound maybe not as good as the Fuze/Clip, but pretty darn close. The highs, on the other hand, need to be softened (I actually winced a few times), while the lows need to picked out of the mud and washed off. I can only imagine how a true audiophile with top-shelf headphones would interpret that!

If this is how music on the SPINN sounds, let’s see how it looks.

Iriver_spinn_mus_album

Even though iriver has always treated album art like an afterthought, it’s still very disappointing to see a great opportunity for the 3.3-inch AMOLED to shine . . .  go to waste. Images are small and grainy; the entire “system” looks like a rejected prototype of Apple’s Cover Flow.

Iriver_spinn_mus_nowplay

The “Now Playing” screen is another wasted opportunity, as nearly half of it is empty.

Iriver_spinn_mus_opt

Why the options menu (play mode, select EQ, scan speed, playback speed, and lyric display) couldn’t open on the blank side of the screen is beyond me. Is it really that hard to switch the locations of the OPT and BACK controls?

Iriver_spinn_mus_song

Quibbles aside, there are some nice features of the music interface as well. One that pops out at me most is how sharp all the text is. Other fonts can be dragged into the Fonts folder and applied at will (Set -> Display -> Fonts), but the standard one is big, clear, and easy to read.

Though I find it strange that the touchscreen must be used to rate songs and add them to a Quick List, I like that both the Quick List and rated songs (1 to 5 stars) are grouped together in the playlists submenu. If used wisely, these are fine substitutes for six traditional on-the-go playlists.

Iriver_spinn_browse

Another positive point is that music (and other content) can be browsed in their original folder structure through the SPINN’s File menu item. Music can be displayed in file tree mode under the regular Music menu item too (SET -> Advanced -> Music Browse Type -> Database or File Tree).

Video

According to the product manual, the iriver SPINN only supports AVI and WMV9 video files with a resolution of 480 x 272 and bitrates up to 1Mbps and 850kbps, respectively. In reality, however, the player is not very strict with these parameters.

Iriver_spinn_video

Iriver_spinn_vids

I transferred a 608 x 320 XviD and 320 x 240 DivX 4 without conversion onto the SPINN with no problem. Playback wasn’t perfect with the XviD, as the player doesn’t scale the resolution, but it was watchable and would certainly do in a pinch if conversion wasn’t possible beforehand. The other file played as smoothly as if it had been preloaded by iriver.

Video playback features are pretty barebones, with nothing more than scan speed, resume, and sequence play listed in the options menu. Bookmarks and view mode (full screen, auto, etc.) would have been welcomed inclusions.

Extras

Flash games

In addition to Flash themes, the iriver SPINN supports Flash games (Flash Lite 2.1, less than 20 fps). Two games are preinstalled but more can be added by dragging SWF files into the Flash Games folder.

Iriver_spinn_games

I said in my iriver W7 review that although games designed for the clix 2 run on the W7, they don’t run particularly well because they were designed for the clix’s 320 x 240 screen and D-Click navigational system. The same is true for the SPINN. Likewise, although there are many 480 x 272 Flash games designed for the PSP, they aren’t necessarily a perfect fit for the SPINN.

Bluetooth

The SPINN is iriver’s first player to have built-in Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support.

Iriver_spinn_bluetooth

The Bluetooth implementation isn’t as extensive as it is on the Samsung P2, but pairing a headset (even a non-stereo one like my Aliph Jawbone) is simple. Just go to Set -> Bluetooth -> Add New Headset, wait for the SPINN to discover devices within range, and select the one you want.

Photo viewer

Iriver_spinn_photos

There’s never anything particularly remarkable about photo viewers on digital media players, and the SPINN is no exception. Pictures (JPG only) look great on the device’s AMOLED screen, sure, but everything is still very commonplace: slideshows with transitions and delay intervals, zoom, and the ability to set an image as wallpaper.

FM radio

The FM radio is also exactly what you’d expect: automatic and manual scanning, presets, stereo/mono quality, and tuner region.

Iriver_spinn_radio

Unexpectedly, the tuner’s sensitivity is lower than other players I’ve used. It missed some of the main stations here in Honolulu that other DAPs can pick up with no problem. The radio cannot be used with Bluetooth headsets, but it can serve as background music while viewing photos and reading text.

FM and voice recorder

FM and voice recordings are saved in MP3 format in their respective areas. You see that small stack of three lines in the bottom left corner of the FM radio image above? That’s where the FM recordings are stored. The icon also appears on the voice recorder screen.

Text viewer

The SPINN’s large screen makes the player work fairly well as a text viewer in either landscape or portrait mode. Features here include selectable font sizes, auto scrolling, and text language. The wheel, which is used to scroll up/down, performs this function nicely.

Battery Life

Built into the SPINN is a non-removable lithium polymer battery rated at approximately 25 hours for audio playback and up to 5 hours for video. Actual runtime varies according to usage and other factors, but I’ve found the estimates to be a tad inflated.

Conclusion

Iriver_spinn_final

The SPINN is iriver’s best DAP so far this year and a refreshing change from the string of budget players released before it. It’s built well, sounds good, and sports a one-of-a-kind design with a beautiful display.

While this is proof that iriver hasn’t completely lost its way, I can’t help but wonder if the company peaked with last year’s clix 2. Because while the SPINN may look like nothing else on the market, it acts like players we’ve seen before. AMOLED? Though smaller and not touch-enabled, we already saw it on the clix 2 about 18 months ago. Bluetooth? The Samsung P2 has it and does it better. Flash? Refer again to the clix 2 and also the W7. The SPINN doesn’t have to do anything game-changing for it to be a solid product, of course, but I just expected more. This should be iriver’s flagship product, but how can it be when it maxes out at 8GB, lacks an expansion slot, wastes opportunities afforded by its large display, and has a dull interface that doesn’t make full use of its touchscreen?

The SPINN is still a great player and I can understand why consumers would adore it, but I’m frustrated by its unrealized potential. I just think it could have been so much more.

Carrying an MSRP of $250 (4GB) and $290 (8GB), the iriver SPINN is available now from Warehouse123.com for $197 and $234.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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20 thoughts on “Review: iriver SPINN

  • October 20, 2008 at 3:58 am
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    Isn’t it possible that the less vivid display is a direct consequence of it being touchscreen? Assuming it’s the kind of touch you have to excess a little force with, they’re known to hinder light just a little bit :)

    And very nice review :)

    Reply
  • October 20, 2008 at 10:20 am
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    FYI: You missed the point totally…The Iriver Spinn is a DMB in Korea and that is the main reason Iriver put this baby on the market ! So it is pretty pointless comparing it to the Clix2 ;)

    Reply
  • October 20, 2008 at 10:57 am
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    jens: But this was not imported from Korea. This is the DMB-free SPINN being marketed and sold in America. Most of iriver’s players have DMB in Korea. There’s even a clix there that has it. So DMB is not “the reason” the SPINN is on the market.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2008 at 11:27 am
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    hats of to sunny, for winning the debate.
    Great review, I was really interested in the formfactor
    and touchscreen
    but irivers lack of judgement on how the screen should be used
    it…it’s made my decision
    no spinn, not now

    Reply
  • October 21, 2008 at 4:08 pm
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    Thanks for the review, Jenn! Excellent as always.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2008 at 11:00 pm
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    Even though I am an iRiver’s user and this review sounds disappointed to SPINN, but you’re right. Especially, [i]the entire “system” looks like a rejected prototype of Apple’s Cover Flow[/i], LOL

    Anyway, I think iRiver left this job, layout design, to UCI. I wish after the theme contest is over, SPINN should have many nice themes to use.

    Very nice review, Jenn. :D

    Reply
  • October 25, 2008 at 8:41 pm
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    Hmm, noticing something: a very dark, sad background. Are you able to set your own pictures onto the background just like the Clix – Lplayer?

    Reply
  • November 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm
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    Excellent, useful review!
    I’m interested in SPINN’s Bluetooth connectivity, but am advised by a distributor that I can’t receive radio broadcasts through BT headphones. This is because the unit depends on connection of a set of wired headphones which function as an antenna.
    Would you expect the BT signal to still be available if I plugged a (suitably terminated) headphone lead into the h/p socket?

    Reply
  • December 12, 2008 at 2:17 pm
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    Any good case released? Need a good one to protect my player.

    Reply
  • December 12, 2008 at 10:29 pm
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    So I purchased a Spinn and more or less it’s as you say. Soo much potential but it’s not put to use. One of the biggest pains in the butt is a pretty large fort. Due to the way the Spinn arranges the menus some of the names (even the default iRiver ones) get clipped and need to pan over via a sorta jerky motion.

    Question: Is there any way to shrink the font / re-arrange the menus or even put a mod on there to fix some of these? Am I going to kick myself for not grabbing an iPod Touch? :P

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • December 14, 2008 at 5:42 am
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    Well i’ve been waiting for a player to come as a replacement for my Creative ZEN Vision:M. Well and here’s the point Creative released another one, in my opinion a very good player too, the ZEN X-Fi. The problem is that I’m at a complete loss which for should I decide, as both players have something which better than the otherone. Plesase if anyone could give me a good advice and help me out.

    Thanks

    Reply
  • December 16, 2008 at 10:11 am
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    Thank you for your reply Jenn. Actually I’ve read almost everything and every review i could find about both players. To be honest I prefer The ZEN x-fi the most because of it’s small size also more colourful display and many other things which the spinn simply hasn’t, so the only things I like about the Iriver very much are the bigger display, maybe the touchscreen, but the overall winner is the customisable user interface or UI. :-/
    If the Zen x-fi had it’s UI as customisable as Spinn’s I wouldn’t spend a minute of thinking which player to choose, it would simply be the Creative ZEN X-Fi ;-)

    Reply
  • April 29, 2009 at 8:32 am
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    I would like to point out that both XviD and DivX are types of the AVI format

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 7:09 am
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    I bought one and the USB would not communicate with XP service pack 3 on two different machines.
    The SPINN recognized attachment to the host so I’m convinced the hardware/cable is good but the software is defective and released prematurely. I went through iRiver’s support and ensured I was using MTP mode with their firmware updater. I also discovered the software on CD came without required system files. I got those files from support and planted them in the right place, but neither the interface tool or the updater recognized the device. USB should work…look at all the plug&play USB memory sticks out there. There is just one support person, Roger Shin, for North America and some of the USB connection information, if not all, should have been in a FAQ. I had purchased expressly because of a firmware update allowing “record reservation”, but I never did get to see that work. I returned the device under warranty. Oct20 2009.

    Reply
  • June 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm
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    I have songs on my player that do not show up anywhere other thn the player itself and I cannot get them to delete of the player. I tried rsetting it but that didn’t work. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  • July 1, 2010 at 4:48 am
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    Did you tried rebuilding libary?

    Reply
  • June 9, 2012 at 2:45 am
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    Well, if you are really *want* to watch mieovs or carry lot of music(over 2 GB), then any of these devices would be good enough. iPod is the best among them. Otherwise, what I do is carry a good Nokia smartphone and load it with around 200+ songs. Its enough for listening to music on the move (I dont carry videos). Who wants to carry so many devices in pockets? Its better for gals, they carry a purse. Its generally more fun to listen to the good old heavy rock on big computer speakers, rather than iPods and phones. Go for the Nokia N73 music edition (2GB card bundled), its cool. And its lighter than iPod. And it has good battery life. And the sound on the headphones is very good. The inbuilt speakers arent that good though. Dont know about stability issues though, Nokia seems to be having quite a few of them lately. But its still much sturdier than iPods and Zunes and laptops. You may want to check reviews of SonyEricsson W-series/MotoRokr etc too.Hey, why not the Apple iPhone? And , you also have a Sony Portable Playstation, dont ya? (IIRC, from some old post of yours) Does it not play music? If it does, try to spend money on expanding its memory, etc.

    Reply

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