iRiver Clix 2GB

When shopping for a MP3 player, I originally wanted a tiny flash-based one for when I go on early morning runs, since hard drive-based ones tend to skip when there are sudden movements.  However, when I saw the iRiver Clix, I realized that I won’t be running all the time, so I might as well be able to enjoy it for when I’m not exercising.

The iRiver Clix (MSRP $199.99) features the ability to play music in these formats: .mp3, .ogg, and .wma.  On top of that, it features the ability to play video, show pictures, and let you play Flash Lite games.  It has a rather large (for a MP3 player) 2.2″ LCD screen that is quite bright, and which can display 260,000 colors.  Additionally it has a built-in FM tuner, so you can listen to local FM radio stations.

It charges up the lithium-poly battery via the USB 2.0 cord, and a single charge can bring you between 10-20 hours (20 hours if you’re listening in the worst possible audio quality, don’t use the LCD screen much, and other best-case scenario variables.)  You can expect around 13 hours of playtime for the average listener, less if you watch videos often and use an aggressive equalizer setting.

It supports all of the online music stores that isn’t called iTunes Music Store.  So it supports URGE, eMusic, MSN Music, Rhapsody, Napster, and other PlaysForSure verified services.

Other little features worth mentioning are:

  • voice recording
  • built-in alarm clock
  • read any text-based file

I’ll go into detail on each feature later on.

A negative aspect of owning the Clix is the rather strict and unnecessary requirements, which is as followed:

  • Windows XP (Service Pack 1 or higher)
  • Windows Media Player 10 or greater
  • CD-ROM drive
  • USB port

From what I understand, the Clix is part of a partnership with iRiver and Microsoft to promote Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management ideals, thus forcing you to use their operating system and media player.  It’s something I’m willing to put up with, but your mileage may vary.

The CD comes bundled with the first beta version of Windows Media Player 11, which is quite buggy, and in my opinion, has the most aggravating and illogical interface for those with fairly large music collections.  After using iTunes and its streamlined interface for a while, it feels like a huge step backwards.

Accessories that comes in the package are your usual standard fare, and some nice additions against the norm.  For starters, you have your basic cheap earphones, which is unfortunately white.  I say unfortunate because it resembles the iPod earphones, which has become a fashion statement amongst teens, and more importantly, a tell-tale sign for iPod thieves to rob you (see this NYTimes story).  There’s also a manual, quick start installation CD, preloaded tracks from eMusic, preloaded games, USB 2.0 cable, and as the nice addition, a carrying case with screen cleaner.

The version of the Clix I have is 2GB, and at present there aren’t any other capacity available.  For my purpose, 2GB is plenty, but it can be a drawback for those looking for lots of room on their MP3 player.  The face of the unit features no buttons or switches, which drew me to it in the first place.  I like the clean, minimalist look.

One drawback to having no buttons on the screen is that the material itself will get greasy fingerprints left on them each time you use it.  Since it’s black and shiny, it’s rather easy to see.  The iPods all have this problem, and other MP3 players as well, and it’s annoying to see that the trend continues with the Clix.  Why can’t manufacturers find a material that isn’t so easily attracted to the grease on your fingers?  For example, the clear faceplate on my watch.  It’s scratch-resistant, doesn’t attract greasy smudges, and takes quite a beating without breaking.

The sides of the screen;  up, down, left, and right, are all pressable.  When pressed, it creates an indentation in that particular direction, and gives a nice tactile feedback when pressed.  On the right side of the unit are the power on/off button and the Smart Key (configurable to go to the home menu, change orientation of the screen, play/pause song, shuffle the playlist, and start/stop recording.)

On top you will find the volume and down buttons, and an opening where the mic is located.  On the left side is just the headphone jack.  The bottom of the unit has the lock switch that’ll prevent any accidental button presses.  Also there’s the port where you plug in the USB cord to charge/sync, and a tiny little opening where you use a safety pin or such tool to reset the device (for emergencies.)

Music

Music sounds excellent, which, of course, largely depends on what bitrate they were encoded at and put on the Clix.  However I’m hearing that using the .ogg format drains the battery more as it uses more processing power compared to the other formats.  In any case, it sounds real good on the Clix, and compares to the iPod (of which I’ve owned three) in the quality department.

When playing back songs, you’ll be presented with a screen that shows the album’s art on the left (if there is one), and on the right is the song’s name, track’s length and position, rating (if there is one), artist’s name and year, and then the album’s name.  Dimly below it it will tell you what artist/song is next.

However, no matter how great the audio quality is, you still need good headphones to enjoy the quality, and a headphone amplifier to power them as no mp3 player has the power to drive a pair of good headphones.

The bundled headphones are decent for average quality, but if you pair it with good headphones/earphones like the Shure E4 series, you need an amp to power them so they’d reach their full capabilities.  As a general rule, any headphone/earphone under 20 ohms can be driven by most portable devices and don’t need an amplifier.

A decent headphone amp goes a long way, however, and a good one may set you back some in the funds department, but the audio quality will soar.  So keep that in mind when you want superb audio quality with your MP3 player.

You can choose from select from 13 preset equalizer settings, or set your own on a 5-band equalizer graphic.  On top of that there’s the included SRS WOW settings you can choose from, one of which allows you to dramatically increase the bass response in songs.  Keep in mind, however, that using these will use up more of the battery power, thus effectively lowering the total life in a single charge (probably an hour at worst case.)

Video

To play video on the Clix, you must convert it to the .avi format, and use a lower bitrate and framerate that the device can handle.  To accomplish this, you can download the free iRiverter application, which handily does the job for you.  It’s a tiny bit of a hassle, but once you’ve seen a movie or music video on the Clix, it’s well worth it.  Even though it’s a 2.2″ screen (which is quite large for a MP3 player) videos look good and doesn’t have any stutter or artifacts to speak of.  I was able to take my Mallrats DVD and put the whole thing on the Clix, and watching it was an enjoyable experience.  Amazingly enough, it didn’t take long to load the video, which is nice and unexpected.

Pictures

You can view a picture individually, or you can watch a series of them in a slideshow.  You can put photos in different folders and use them as categories.  For example, all the photographs of flowers I’ve taken have their own Flowers folder, and when I want to show off to my family, I just play a slideshow of the Flowers folder.  Or you can just set up playlists, which allows you to mix and match as you please. Any photo can also be used as your wallpaper which shows in the background of every screen you navigate to. Although, personally, I prefer to use a plain black background for optimal viewing and less distraction.

Games

Playing games on the Clix is a mixed bag.  Some games are fun, while others are quite boring and takes up space, and some are a mix of both but aren’t too enjoyable because there’s too much lag.  I’ve heard that the U10, which is the predecessor to the Clix, handles games much better.  The Clix can only play Flash Lite games, which are games in Flash optimized for mobile devices that likely don’t have enough processing power to play regular Flash games.  I don’t see myself using this feature much on the Clix, but it is a nice alternative if I ever do need to waste some time, perfect for those long waits at the doctor’s office.

FM Radio

I was actually surprised at the reception this little thing has on most of the FM radio stations in the Tampa Bay area.  I was able to pick up 8 out of 10 radio stations I like, which is more than I expected.  Usually with something this tiny, you won’t find it’ll have such a good reception in most cases, but as I said, the Clix elicited no such problem.

You can set up to 20 preset stations, which are listed by numbers (rather than letting you name each preset.)  You can autoscan for radio stations, and it works quite well at discovering those with good reception.

Recording radio stations won’t really impress you so much, unfortunately.  It records at a measly 32kbps, and in the uncompressed .wav format.  I take this to mean that the Clix doesn’t have the processing power to record at a higher quality bitrate, and judging by how it handles some Flash Lite games, I’d say that’s exactly the case.  For spoken radio stations, 32kbps is fine, but for music playback not so great.

Correction: Recording quality can be set to Low, Medium, and High, which translates to 64kbps, 128kbps, and 256kbps respectively. Contrary to what I had wrote originally, this is fabulous. 64kbps is perfect for talk radio, and 128kbps/256kbps are both just fine for music. Of course, the higher the quality, the more space it will take up on your Clix.

User Interface

As I had mentioned before, the Clix features a clean face, instead using the edge of the screen as buttons.  The menu system when you turn the Clix on is very simple, broken down into these selection choices, and sub-choices:

  1. Extras (Recordings, Alarm Clock, Flash Games, Text, Browse Device)
  2. FM Radio
  3. Now Playing
  4. Music (Play All, Playlists, Artists, Songs, Albums, Genres, Now Playing)
  5. Pictures
  6. Videos
  7. Settings (Date & Time, Sounds, Display, Smart Key, Timer, Advanced, About)

In fact, using the Clix’s menu system, it resembles a stripped-down version of Microsoft’s Media Center series of operating systems.

Here’s a short video I recorded showing me navigating and selecting a video, and then a song. Note: I used my digital camera, it’s not a dedicated camcorder device. So the video and audio quality is severely limited and doesn’t accurately show the brightness and clarity of the screen, nor show off how good the music sound. Consider this when watching this video:

The most important criteria of any MP3 player on the market today is how usable and accessible it is.  The interface must be intuitive.  It can have all the features in the world, but if it’s frustrating to use and takes too much time, people won’t like it.  The primary reason why the iPod has become so successful is because the scrollwheel has made it insanely easy to browse your music collection, play the songs you want, and so on.

Using the edge of the screen to navigate between these menu choices is a breeze.  Even though it doesn’t scroll through long lists as handily as the iPod’s scrollwheel, it is better than a lot of other competing MP3 players.  Everywhere you go on the screen, you’ll see tiny arrows at each side of the screen that lets you know where your options lie in respect to the direction of the screen you can press.

On every screen, are a series of information.  Top left is the clock that tells you the current time, top right is the sound EQ setting, and a battery indicator.  Bottom left is the company’s name, iriver, which is utterly useless and unnecessary.

Adding Files to the Clix

Since the Clix is at the mercy of Microsoft’s Windows Media Player software, so this is really an evaluation of that software rather than the Clix’s capabilities.

Windows Media Player 11, as I had mentioned previously, is still in an early beta stage, and has a lot of bugs as a result.  The interface itself I find rather clumsy and difficult to use, however syncing and adding music to the Clix is quite easy.  There’s an indicator that lets you know how much space you have filled up, and how much will be taken up when you go to add songs to the sync queu.

It would’ve been nice to just drag and drop your music files via Windows Explorer, instead of being forced to use the built-in capabilities of Windows Media Player 11.  This would’ve made it much easier for power-users like me who want more control over my MP3 player.

Sometimes, seemingly at random, my computer doesn’t recognize the Clix when it is plugged in. Scanning around online, it looks like other Clix owners have the same problem, so it isn’t just the way my computer is set up. This is one of the major aggravating problem with the Clix at this time.

You can manually add video, pictures, Flash games, text files, and playlist files to the Clix via Windows Explorer, but I ran into some problems importing music files onto the Clix.  Adding ogg vorbis encoded songs froze up the unit, forcing me to use the pinhole reset button.  Adding MP3 files doesn’t show the album art, even if it is embedded into the song itself.  Instead, the Clix has to have the album art converted into an .alb file and put into the Albums folder.

Conclusion

While there are some annoying niggles, it is easily overlooked by all the positive aspects of the player.  It really handles music, video, pictures, and some games quite well.  I have listened to the radio more in a few days than I have in a few years, thanks to the ease of use and reception of the Clix.

It doesn’t skip, which makes it perfect for strenous exercise, and it looks good, which makes it perfect for showing off to friends.  It is easy to use, and packed with features.  If it had more options other than forcing you to use Microsoft’s Media Player software and operating system, and used a non-propriety USB cable, it would’ve been closer to perfection.

All in all, I’m quite happy with my iRiver Clix MP3 player, and it seems to me iRiver’s good reputation is well deserved in the MP3 player industry.

Pros

  • Tiny profile
  • Intuitive to use
  • Great music playback
  • Great video playback
  • Great picture playback
  • Great FM radio reception
  • Protective carrying case included

Cons

  • Froze up when importing Ogg songs manually
  • Randomly doesn’t recognize Clix when plugged in
  • Greasy fingerprints on screen
  • Have to convert videos before transferring to the device
  • Restrictive requirements to use
  • Requires both hands to navigate around (one handed browsing is possible but may take practice)
  • propriety USB cable

Are you still carrying around a CD player?  Update your technology with the latest mp3 player.  You can listen to free music online even when you’re not in front of your computer.  So throw away those old music cd’s and get music all the time.