iriver SPINN reviewSee all photos
Get ready for some superlatives: the iriver SPINN is the sexiest piece of kit we've played with this year. It's simply beautiful, and truly "designed." iriver didn't just cut a slab of brushed aluminum and call it good, they've crafted a piece of art here with quality details, a truly elegant spinning cylinder, and a gorgeous OLED screen front and center. It's not the slimmest player around, but it's not trying to be, and still effortlessly fits into a jean pocket.
The inclusion of back, power, volume and hold buttons means you can do pretty much everything on the player without touching the screen, though the placement of the controls demands that you hold the device in a landscape orientation, and that you use both hands. Even if you're using the touchscreen, the lack of a portrait mode for the player means you're most likely going to need both hands for even the simplest tasks. The whole thing is a major step backwards from the Clix from a usability standpoint, as fun as spinning can be.
As for the screen, it's a pretty mixed bag. On one hand, the colors and brightness of the OLED screen are practically breathtaking. We've never seen such richness on any mobile device before. The screen is resistive touch, which is disappointing, but it's pretty responsive as far as resistive touchscreens go. However, the screen appears to possess a mere 16-bit color depth, instead of the 24-bit standard on most LCDs, which means that as great as those reds, greens and blues look, there are only around 65k of them, instead of the 16 million or so we're used to. Dithering and color stepping is really noticeable when viewing pictures or video, and we're not sure if we're comfortable with that tradeoff for the otherwise amazing view the SPINN provides.
Storage-wise the SPINN comes in 8GB ($280) and 4GB ($240) flavors, with zero media expansion to speak of. Luckily, if you dig around you can get both versions for a good bit cheaper.
First off, for the hardcore: the SPINN is first and foremost a mass storage device, perfect for plugging into just about any OS and loading media into plainly marked folders for video, audio, pictures and more. Vista preferred we install the drivers from the included CD first, but OS X spotted and loaded the SPINN right away. When you plug in the USB, the SPINN asks you if you'd like "Power & Play" or "Power & Data," to obvious effect. Rhapsody also has little trouble recognizing the device and PlaysForSure should be a snap, though our pre-release device wasn't set up for working with subscription music.
Like we said at the outset, the lack of an ecosystem really hurts iriver on the desktop side. "Works with anybody" doesn't exactly equal "works the best." With stores like Amazon's DRM-free MP3 wonderland, things are certainly looking up, but the best two jukeboxes (iTunes and Zune, in our humble opinion) are intrinsically tied to their players, and few developers seem ready to fill in the gap for the rest of us, especially on Windows and Mac. Video is even a worse scenario, with few legal methods to obtain DRM-free content, and cumbersome ripping and transcoding required to score your own.
That said, iriver's certainly doing its best at making this work from the player standpoint, offering up playback of MP3, WMA, OGG, ASF, FLAC and APE for music, MPEG4, WMV9 and XVID for video. Unfortunately, while the SPINN will easily play just about anything you'd care to torrent (legally, of course) it can't handle downsizing the full-res video without getting choppy and eventually getting the audio out of sync. That means your current computer-friendly video collection will need some re-encoding to play on the SPINN, even if you're all set for codecs.
We'll run you through those menu options real fast: "Flash" gets you at the Flash games, which make full use of the touchscreen and certainly show potential; "Rec" offers up a simple recording interface for use with the built-in mic; "Picture" is an extremely simple gallery view, but it's fun to step through the pictures with the wheel; "Video" offers up a nice list view of videos, with an actual live video preview of the selected vid; "Music" we'll detail in the next paragraph; "Radio" offers up simple ways to set presets and jump through stations (another win for the wheel); "Text" lets you read through text documents, which look great on the screen, but doesn't allow for much styling; "File" is a simple folder-structure file browser; "Set" offers up just a few options, like changing the theme, screen brightness and pairing with an A2DP headset over Bluetooth, but not much here.
Perhaps you're picking up a theme here, but the only place where the device really rewards touchscreen usage is in Flash games. It's not that the touchscreen is horrible, just that the interface hasn't been optimized for it, while still failing in enough ways to make using the scroll wheel and the back button exclusively a bit of a chore.
It's plain to see that iriver has obviously put a lot of thought into the design of this player, we just wish they'd put half as much thought into everyday usability. There's so much to love about the SPINN, and a bit of an x-factor that makes us want to love it more, but when we really sit down and try to build our portable media life around this little flash-based bugger, there are too many drawbacks in actual usage to make it worth it. Your mileage may vary.