iRiver P7 Ambleside
The iRiver P7 portable media player has one of the stranger designs we've seen. Its aluminium case has an unpleasant texture, and the edges are square, so it's not the most comfortable device to carry in your pocket.
The 4.3in screen is bright and its interface is split into boxes, each of which performs a different function. There's a box for video files, which displays the most recent video played, and a box for music that shows the album cover for the last song played. A box in the top left displays the time and date. This is certainly a novel idea, but we're not sure it works. The interface doesn't do enough to be useful, and you still have to click through the menus to browse the files in each section. Our biggest frustration was the unresponsive touchscreen. While the interface had us guessing where some functions were hidden - such as the music player's repeat and shuffle modes - the slow touchscreen made us wonder if we'd even tapped the right part of the screen.
To make matters worse, the P7 has few hardware controls. The only buttons are the power switch, volume controls and a single button that returns you to the main menu. This means that to skip or pause a song, you'll have to fish the device out of your pocket and use the touchscreen. Our review version had 8GB of internal memory, but there's a microSDHC card slot for expanding this. A 16GB version is also available for just £20 more.
From a technical point of view, there's much to like about the P7. Music quality was good, although you'll need to use a decent set of headphones rather than the cheap pair that comes with it. Without equalisation, music was a bit flat and the bass was muddy, but the P7 comes with SRS WOW, which you can tune to achieve the right balance for your tastes. Colours in both video and still images were bright and fairly accurate, although there was a distinct grain and flesh tones were dull. You can read text files on the P7 but no other document types.
We have issues with the claimed video format support. With so many variations of codec and container files, it's almost impossible to test them all, but many of our standard test files didn't play. H.264 files worked only if they had a specific Baseline profile. XviD MP4 files played with their video and sound out of synch, and an XviD AVI file caused the device to reboot. No portable media player offers perfect video support, but the P7 had more problems than most.
Superior sound quality gives the P7 an edge over most players and mobile phones, but the interface is fiddly and the touchscreen frustrating. We can't recommend the P7 over the more practically designed Archos 605 WiFi.
8GB capacity, 4.3in 480x272 resolution LCD, microSDHC slot, supports AAC, WMA, Ogg, Wav, MP3 audio files, WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4 AVI, MPEG4 MP4 video files, BMP and JPEG image files, USB interface, 73x112x14mm, 175g, one-year RTB warranty
The P7's great audio quality is let down by a frustrating touchscreen interface and a lack of physical controls.
Author: Barry de la Rosa