By Melvin Seah, a freelance writer
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WHEN you are up against the iPod in a crowded PMP (portable media player) market, the only way to get noticed is to have a gizmo with a distinctive design or unique feature.
It seems iRiver wants to stand out for its design with the P7, its latest PMP.
Now, I am not someone who is easily wowed, but I must admit I was intrigued by its minimalist design.
Looking like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie, the entire P7 is encased in a block of aluminium, with a strip of white plastic for its base.
The front of the player is dominated by a large 4.3-inch screen.
I was not even sure how to turn the thing on, until I noticed a rather minuscule power button at the top.
Upon closer inspection, I found even tinier volume and menu buttons at the top and a lock switch, headphone jack and microSD card slot by the side.
Sliding open a cover at the bottom reveals a proprietary jack that connects to the USB port of your computer.
Its main menu interface is very interesting too - iRiver describes it as "magazine look", where menu items are laid out in boxes.
Very pretty to look at, but I discovered that using it is not any different from the traditional interface style, where menu items are listed in rows.
Beyond its stand-out design and gimmicky interface, I found the P7 to be just like any other PMP in the market.
It plays videos, music, displays your photos and has a radio and recording function with its built-in microphone.
After installing the software off the CD, I transferred my movies and music into the player.
It is easy enough to drag-and-drop music into the player, but videos are another matter altogether.
According to the manual, the P7 supports common formats such as XviD, WMV, RM, and MPEG1/2/4, but it is not as simple as dragging and dropping movies into the player.
The software converted all my movies and MTVs into the WMV format before transferring it into the player.
So when I tried to load Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a two-hour long, 1.27GB XviD movie, it was an agonising wait of slightly over 1 1/2 hours.
Luckily, it was worth it, as the P7's 480 x 272 resolution screen played the movie wonderfully.
Fortunately, songs are transferred quickly and listening to music is a joy too.
Even with the bundled headphones, my songs sounded rich and crisp.
However, searching for music is a pain, as it is simply too difficult to poke at the slim, on-screen scroll bar.
Unlike the iPod's touch interface, the P7's touchscreen felt unresponsive.
The included stylus helps a little, but I simply do not have the patience to unscrew its cap each time just to use it.
It is also rather sluggish when displaying photos, which takes about two seconds to load.
The iRiver P7 is one of the prettiest PMP I have seen.
While playback quality is great, make sure you have lots of patience to wait for movies to be transferred into the player.
This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life.
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