Iriver has made some lovely-looking MP3 players over the years, including the super-sexy and Editors' Choice-winning Clix 2. The E100 is not quite the shiny, strokable wonder that was the Clix, but it does have a pared-back, elegant design that gives Apple a run for its (mountain of) money.
Remember the Zune? You know, that elusive Microsoft player that never quite made it to Australia? The E100 looks a little Zuney, from its portrait screen orientation to its dimensions to the placement of the navigation buttons. Still, there are enough differences to suggest that iriver isn't playing copycat, starting with the square selection key. Much like the left eye of a petite alcoholic, this button is sunken and small, which doesn't make for a comfy experience for your poor old thumb.
Above the nav buttons is a 2.4-inch (61mm) TFT LCD. It operates in portrait mode for meandering through menus and scrolling through songs, but switches to landscape orientation for viewing videos and images. On the top of the E100 is a microSD slot, while volume keys, a teeny power button and an even teenier microphone sit on the player's right face. The base houses the headphone socket, USB connector and a line-in port, while the left is home only to a hold switch and reset button.
In contrast to the glossy fingerprint farms of late — such as Samsung's T10 — the E100 has a matte plastic finish. This makes the player look a little more budget than its rivals, but cuts down on the time you'll need to spend polishing its surfaces.
As far as recent video-enabled MP3 players go, E100 sits in the middle of the extra-features spectrum. It focuses on practical inclusions — microSD slot, line-in recording and an FM radio — rather than the flashy, quirky features of some of its competitors — such as Bluetooth, games, a touchscreen or Transformer-style fold-out speakers. There are few customisation options; you can't change the wallpaper, colour scheme or menu style.
In addition to the MP3-and-WMA compatibility combo you'll find in pretty much every non-iPod player, the E100 handles ASF, OGG and FLAC files. This will please the music snobs who get all uppity about 128Kbps MP3s poisoning their precious ears. There is no support for AAC, though, so higher-bitrate iTunes Plus songs won't play on the E100.
There's a lot of flexibility in terms of file transfer. You can do the basic drag-and-drop thing from a Mac or PC, or if you fancy a bit more detail you can go for a music management app like Windows Media Player or iriver's own Plus 3 software. This can be downloaded for free from iriver's Web site, but you'll need to provide contact details and a serial number.
Audio-wise, the E100 performed better than expected. When listening through the headphones, songs sounded more detailed and immersive than they did when played on an iPod Touch.
Unfortunately, videos did not fare as well. Colours look washed out and a screen-door effect is visible when the player is held within half a metre of your eyes. Clips don't look terrible, but they're certainly no match for the lush colours and smooth motion you'll see with the latest Apple and Samsung players.
The main problem we had with performance was that the E100 was a little slow on the uptake. The selection bar lagged when we scrolled through song lists, and photos were interspersed with a "Please wait" message. The E100 even froze a few times, stubbornly ignoring our repeated button presses.
The layout of controls often defies intuition. For example, pressing the right arrow when a track is playing doesn't skip to the next song. To hear the subsequent tune, you'll need to press the down arrow instead. Huh?
One thing we were fond of was the elegant fade-out of songs. Skip to the next song or turn the player off and the track will fade away into silence rather than ending abruptly. A small touch, but a welcome one. Similarly, the ability to bookmark videos and return to a particular section of the clip was a thoughtful inclusion.
The E100 is a friendly, versatile little critter, but its laggy performance can be a real grind. If you're not fussed over video, and have the patience to scroll slowly, it would make an acceptable choice.
The player comes in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB versions, with prices ranging from AU$129 to just over AU$200.