iRiver Clix with Cradle Dock Review

Written by Lewis Leong 

Packaging

iRiver does a good job with their packaging by making it simple and clean, probably taking note of Apple’s packaging strategy, though not as refined.  All the included accessories are placed in clearly labeled paper boxes making it simple and easy to find what you need quickly.  There is no foam padding of any sort to protect any of the accessories or the player itself but I do not think this will be a problem because the Clix is a flash based player.  The Clix itself is protected by a sticker with a printed on animation of the “now playing” screen.  There is a “starter kit” that comes with the Clix that contains the manual, quick start guide, software CD, various documentations, and a neoprene case with a screen cleaner.  The case fits the player very snugly and is padded enough to ensure proper protection.  The screen cleaner does a decent job though I sometimes found that it just smeared the oils from my skin instead of absorbing it.


Extra foam earbud covers, sync cable, Clix, headphones.

Top row: Extension cable, Cradle dock
Bottom row: Line-in cable, USB cable, IR remote

The packaging for the cradle dock contains a series of boxes as well with no foam padding to protect anything but everything came out of the box in perfect condition.  The cradle comes with a line-in cable, 3.5mm extension plug, the dock itself, and an IR remote. 

I enjoyed the packaging but it did not wow me as Apple’s packaging does.  I was concerned with the lack of protection for the components though none of them were damaged.  I would like it if iRiver included some plastic molds to hold their components to make it seem more professional while adding some protection at the same time. 

Design

The Clix is one of the most beautifully designed MP3 players I have ever seen.  The button-less screen creates a very clean and sleek look that resembles a flat panel television.  Since there are no buttons to press, navigation is done through pressing the sides of the screen.  The sides of the screen are tactile buttons and not touch sensitive, which would have made it too sensitive.  The rest of the controls are located on the sides of the player which include dedicated volume buttons, a power button, a “smart key,” and a hold switch.  The hold switch does not only cease the function of the screen buttons but actually locks the screen buttons into place so they can not be pressed.  This is a wise choice by iRiver because it will prevent wear and tear on the buttons.  The back of the player is made of glossy white plastic and has a clean look to it instead of having a bunch of Windows, SRS, WOW, and other logos.  While the screen of the player seems very scratch resistant, the back seems to be more prone to scratching so users should exercise caution.  One of my favorite design features of the Clix is its ability to switch between landscape and portrait modes.  Portrait mode is useful in allowing one-handed operation of the player, though it is a little more difficult that I would have liked it to be.  Since users have to touch the sides of the player to navigate, they will find their thumbs and hands obstructing their view when pressing some buttons.  Though it this is a little annoying, it is bearable and does not take away from the overall pleasurable experience of using the player.  Another gripe is that the reset button can only be pressed by inserting a paperclip into a pin-sized hole located at the bottom of the player.  Both Creative and iRiver have to find a simpler way to reset the player.  I really like the simple button combo that makes the iPod reset itself.  Creative and iRiver should take note.

What’s with the small reset holes?

Once in the Cradle Dock, the player will resemble a retro-style television which will draw stares and wow your friends.  There are tiny speakers on the back of the dock that allow wireless use of your player.  The dock gives the player the awesome feature of line-in recording but also disables an important feature, the FM tuner.  I assume this happens because there is no headphone lead to act as an antenna, which would have given the player horrible reception.  The dock also lets you connect a line-out cable so you can listen to your music on better speakers and there is a mini-USB connector to allow you to sync your player while it is still in the dock.  The included IR remote is the only method of navigating the player while it is in the dock.  The remote has a very slim profile and membrane type buttons and while this remote provides excellent functionality for the player while it is in the dock, it is poorly designed because the buttons become a little exhausting after prolonged use and the directional buttons are a bit more spread out than I would have liked.  The remote also looks quite cheap with an uneven fit and finish and lack of attention to detail.  Perhaps I am being nit-picky but I do enjoy the fact that every function can be accessed wirelessly.


I love how it looks like a reto TV in the dock.

One design feature that I find refreshing is the USB cable that is provided with the player.  It has a mechanism that locks the player into place on the cable and can only be unlocked by holding buttons on the side.  This results in a secure attachment to your computer, making it impossible to accidentally disconnect your player while it is performing a sync which could wreck the player.  More manufacturers should take note of this simple, yet ingenious locking mechanism. 

Finally, if you are worried about the durability of Clix, worry no more.  I gave this Clix to my sister as a present and she has the reputation of having the “touch of death” with all things electronic.  It has been over two weeks and I’m happy to report that the player has not scratched.  This is truly an amazing testament to the kind of plastic that iRiver chose to make the Clix’s screen with. 

Performance

Once I fired up the player for the first time, I was immediately impressed with the fluidity of the interface and how beautifully simplistic, yet sophisticated the menus were laid out.  Everything is laid out very logically and can be picked up without reading the instruction manual, which I believe most people do.  The GUI reminds me of Windows Media Center, which makes sense because iRiver worked very closely with Microsoft on the development of this player.  The “now playing” screen really impresses me in that it uses its screen real estate to deliver tons of information without searching through a sub menu.  Song title, album name, song rating, artist name, year of album release, time, battery meter, EQ setting, number of songs in current playlist, and my favorite, next song.  More companies should add a “next song” display on their players.  Though this may seem like an overwhelming amount of information to be displayed on one screen, I did not find it confusing at all.  One thing that bugged me about the interface was the fact that you could not delete songs or recordings from the player.


Pictures are browsed on the player in list form, displaying a small thumbnail of the highlighted picture.  Photos look accurate and fluid on the screen as it would on the computer screen though detail is lost because of the 320×240 resolution.  There is no over saturation as with other players, namely my Creative Zen Vision: M.  Videos can also be played on this device and look good for 15 frames per second (fps).  I expected the video experience to be severely degraded compared to the 30fps that my Vision: M is capable of but I am pleasantly surprised that there was minimal difference.  Music videos looked great and the screen provided excellent viewing angles.  I would advise against watching anything longer than a few minutes on the Clix because of two reasons: one being that the screen is so small and will fatigue your eyes and two being the fact that the player maxes out at a dainty 2 GB.


A little detail is lost because of the low res screen.

My favorite feature about the Clix is its ability to record in several different ways.  There is FM recording which is very handy for catching shows or songs you want to save, thought the RIAA will not be happy about the latter.  You can also perform voice recordings and line-in recordings.  Voice recordings were of average quality and had a hard time picking up sounds that were far away.  I would not use the Clix to record lectures or conferences though it is a handy tool for taking notes or to do a casual podcast.  Line-in recording provided much more of a use because of its excellent recording quality.  If set at “high” recording quality, files are encoded at 256kbps MP3s and 128kbps at “medium” quality.  Recording whole albums is a simple process though editing the file names and ID3 tags of the songs is not as fun or pleasurable.  I did encounter a few problems when recording, one of which was the recording volume.  Even when set at the highest recording volume and max volume from the recording source (my ZVM) the volume of the recorded tracks was still lower than I would have liked them to be.  Another problem I encountered was the track splitting function which breaks up the recording when it doesn’t sense any sound for 2 seconds.  For classical albums, it could not sense the gaps correctly and recorded the album as one huge MP3.  My final gripe about the line-in recording function is that the recordings are stored deep in the submenus of the “Extras” section which is irritating when you want to find your recordings and listen to them since they are not included in your library.  Hopefully a firmware update will place a folder in the music library for recordings.


With all of these extra features, it is easy to forget what the Clix was designed to do and that is to play music and boy does the Clix deliver.  This is one of the best sounding MP3 players I have ever heard.  There is also an incredible amount of adjustability with this player.  Users can choose from a number of very good EQ presets or tweak the SRS and WOW features to their liking.  The SRS WOW features really impressed me by generating great sound to whatever type of music I was listening to.  The TruBass provided enough bass to literally blow my brains out.  I could feel the insides of my ears vibrating from the powerful bass.  One downside to all of this adjustability is that users might be intimidated or might not know how to adjust the settings to make their music sound great.  It takes some time to fiddle around with what settings sound best but once you find them, you will experience musical nirvana.  Cliché, I know, but there is no way else to put it.   The included headphones may not be the most stylish but they do sound pretty good for stock headphones.  They reproduce a neutral sound across the spectrum but a little more bass than the stock headphones from Apple and Creative.  The ear-bud design may be problematic for some as they easily fall out, which is the case for both my sister and father.  As with all the cables that come with the dock and player, the headphones are gold plated for better conductivity.  Though the stock headphones are decent, anyone looking to improve their musical experience should definitely look into buying noise isolating or noise canceling headphones.


Syncing is easy and works flawlessly.

Syncing the Clix with Window Media Player 11 is a pleasure.  Everything works seamlessly and swiftly.  I am impressed with its sync speeds and how the Clix did not have to rebuild its library after syncing which means it can be unplugged and is ready to use in an instant.  Throughout the whole experience, I never had the player freeze on me except when the battery was completely drained.  I tried connecting the player after its battery had drained to recharge it but it would not respond at all.  I had to reset the player and everything worked again.  This is quite odd as there should be a little battery life left to sustain the player long enough to be connected.  I would advise users to charge their players without draining them all the way first because lithium ion batteries do not like being completely discharged.  Continually draining the battery until there is no power left will hurt the battery, causing lowered capacity which equates to shorter battery life.


I chose the most unflattering picture of my sister as a wallpaper before handing it over.

As you can tell, I am enamored with the Clix but there is one thing that bugs me to no end which is that audio files are not normalized.  This is annoying beyond belief because I have to keep lowering or turning up the volume for different artists and albums.  One thing that iRiver can learn from Creative is the “Smart Volume” function that is included on many of Creative’s players which normalizes the tracks automatically.  Users can use programs such as MP3Gain to normalize their MP3 on their computer but it would be more convenient ifthe player itself handled all the normalization. 

Conclusion

iRiver has created a beautifully designed and incredible performing MP3 player that they can be proud of.  Despite its few flaws, I fell in love with the Clix and would definitely recommend it to anyone.  It is easy to use yet has a billion features that will satisfy the most demanding techie.  I hope that iRiver will come out with a Clix that has a higher capacity, which should not be too hard seeing as Sandisk just released the Sansa E280 which has a whopping 8GB of flash memory and an expandable Micro SD slot which makes it capable for a mind blowing 10GB of storage.  Once iRiver crams more memory into the Clix and fixes its other minor problems, they might finally be able to compete with the Apple juggernaut.  I am so impressed with the Clix that I’m going to say it is an iPod killer.  Let the flaming begin.


Brothers

Nano who?

More pictures can be found here.

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