iRiver broke up its marriage with tradition when creating the popular Clix's D-Click navigation system, using the screen itself as a four-way button. And the Korean company has done away with convention once again with the hotly anticipated Spinn.
Featuring an innovative new control system, the Spinn will be available initially in 4GB and 8GB capacities, with 16GB to follow shortly after. The 4GB retails for AU$229, while the 8GB is AU$279.
The Spinn's innovation is its mechanical wheel, perched top-right on the player's well-built silver aluminium chassis. It rotates 360 degrees, discreetly clicking as it swivels. How effective this is depends entirely on how you grip the player — some of us found it extremely comfortable and intuitive; some found it a little awkward. The main downside is that it's nearly impossible to use it with just one hand.
But the stunningly crisp 480x272-pixel AMOLED screen — itself a key Spinn feature — is touch-sensitive. It's no iPod Touch, but it makes one-handed operation easier.
The Spinn's screen is one of the best we've ever seen
A 3.5mm headphone socket sits underneath the player, directly opposite the scroll wheel. That's okay, but to its left lives something that isn't: a non-standard USB socket. The location of the headphone socket also makes it impossible to let the Spinn stand unaided for hands-free video playback.
Various physical control buttons feature around the sides of the Spinn, including a button for stepping back through menus, making a total of three navigational methods when combined with the touchscreen's controls and the scroll wheel.
Both the wheel and beautiful screen are features in themselves, but the Spinn also supports an epic wealth of audio formats including MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, APE, ASF, WAV and Lossless WMA. Your protected WMA purchases are also supported, but notably absent is AAC.
MPEG-4 SP, WMV9 SP and Xvid SP videos are supported up to 30fps, though our usual Xvid files wouldn't play, which is odd, because they did play on iRiver's cheaper Lplayer. Digital radio came on our review model, as hinted in our initial hands-on, but all digital radio and TV features will be stripped for the final UK model.
There's no expandable memory either, since the Spinn doesn't have a microSD or SDHC slot. To compensate, A2DP stereo Bluetooth comes built-in, along with support for text files up to 10MB and JPEG photos.
Also supported is Adobe's Flash Lite 2.1 standard, so SWF games can be simply dragged and dropped from any Web site on to the player. Games seem to need to be smaller than 1MB, though — and don't bother trying to play downloaded YouTube videos because that sort of Flash isn't supported.
The Spinn's usability entirely depends on how you hold it, as mentioned earlier. Its wheel-centric navigation does work and it is very intuitive, but as cycling back through menus requires you use either a separate physical button or an icon on the touchscreen, it's not hugely fluid and not as seamless as on the iPod Touch or iRiver Clix. We'd love to see the Spinn with the Clix's D-Click system instead of the wheel.
We didn't want to disown the horizontally styled menus though, and the wheel certainly makes them fun to navigate. Like menu items, song listings and photo gallery thumbnails can be cycled through horizontally, and videos feature full motion thumbnails. Additionally, your photos can be used as background wallpapers, transforming the default grey theme from dull to divine.
A note to iRiver, though: artist, album and song info really should've been arranged vertically, as there just isn't enough space to display long words on a single line.
In terms of audio performance, the Spinn is audibly in line with Creative's Zen — that is, excellent — with decent sonic balance and low distortion levels. We gave Ingrid Michaelson's folksy debut Boys And Girls a blast alongside the aforementioned Zen and Cowon's audiophile-approved (and CNET.co.uk favourite) iAudio D2.
The D2 produces a clearer treble and deeper bass, though the Spinn has an ever-so-slightly preferable mid-range. A five-band equaliser is at your disposal should you want to tweak this performance.
iRiver's Plus 3 software comes bundled to manage files, and while Windows Media Player is a better content manager, Plus 3 is a decent video converter. The Spinn's AMOLED screen supports 65k colours and we found videos to be warmer and more natural-looking when compared with identical videos on Creative's LCD-sporting Zen. Its native 16:9 resolution is also ideal for watching movies.
Battery life wasn't overly impressive during our typical usage scenario tests. Out of a single full charge we got roughly 17 hours of audio (320 MP3s and some WAV), about 45 minutes of video (WMV, high quality), some photo browsing and general player navigation with the screen brightness set to medium.
Overall the Spinn is a decent performer, with its marvellous screen, decent audio quality and terrific audio file format support being its main assets, as well as its general ease of use.
But as the mechanical wheel only takes on half of the navigational controls and is nearly impossible to use single-handedly, we're not as keen on it as we are the Clix' D-Click interface, and it's more of a gimmick than a god-send. Frankly, the Spinn's good, but it's not our favourite player.