Saturday, December 13, 2008

iriver SPINN. My Review.

The iriver SPINN caught my eye when it was first shown several months ago. Beginning prices ($290ish) were too high for the listed features IMO. This week I saw the 8gb version for sale at for $220 with no tax and free shipping so thought I'd take a look. Still a little high, but a good sign that the SPINN is moving down to reasonable prices with time. For comparison you can get an 8gb Samsung P2 for $160 or less, and the P2's features are a bit more evolved than the SPINN.

The feature that most intrigued me was Bluetooth, as I'm a big fan of wireless headphones. The SPINN limits it's bluetooth to stereo headsets though. The Samsung P2 throws in cell phone pairing, file transfer, and bluetooth game play. If you're all about music then the SPINN's bluetooth should cover you. There is some unused potential here though.

One feature that stands out on the SPINN is it's 3.3" 480 x 272 AMOLED screen. It's HUGE compared to the 8gb Zune's 1.8" screen shown above. It is the same resolution as the Samsung P2 and the Coby MP835 but noticeably larger. The three players are nearly the same in width and height, but the SPINN's screen uses more of the front surface area. You don't need a big screen for music, but if you're interested in photos and video playback then the SPINN will delight you. Simply beautiful.

The main options of the SPINN include FLASH games, Voice recording, Pictures, Video, Music, FM Radio, Text, File Browser, and Settings. If you lived in Korea you could add DMB TV and a Dictionary to those. Unfortunately other countries get fewer features.

Flash is where some interesting potential lies, but out of the box there were only two flash applications on the SPINN. More "might" be available in the future. It is suggested that games made for cell phones using the same resolution touchscreen would work. Time will tell.

Voice recording is one of those features I want but don't really need. The SPINN does a decent job allowing low, medium, and high quality settings, as well as the ability to only record when sounds are detected. If you need to spy a little, that feature might be perfect.

The Pictures app needs a little work. As far as I can tell there is no auto rotation of photos to fit the screen, and no manual rotate either. There is a zoom icon to tap on, but all I get is a "this file format is not supported" message when I try and use it. There is a slide show option along with a variety of slide transitions you can apply. The transitions include Fade, Wipe left, Wipe right, Wipe up, Wipe down, Random, and off. You can set the delay to 3, 5, 7, or 9 seconds between photos. Lastly, you can select one of your photos as the SPINN's background wallpaper.

Videos look great on the SPINN. Above is the same movie on the P2 (top) and the SPINN. The video player could use a few more features though. Options include Scan Speed, Resume, and Sequential Play. There is no way to zoom a video to fill the screen if it's not 16x9 format, and there are no direct options to brighten/dim the screen or tell the SPINN to connect to bluetooth from within the app. Again the SPINN could use some more options for video playback. I'll have to do more testing, but with Bluetooth on I noticed considerable frame dropping on a movie I was watching. Th same movie looked fine with no dropped frames on the Cowon S9 and Samsing P2. It appears the SPINN's bluetooth relies on the main process of compression, and in doing so steals processing required for movie play. A real shame.

The Music player seems to have gotten the most development time, but it fails to take advantage of the great screen. Album art never shows up any larger than a postage stamp on the big screen. The image above compares album art between the SPINN (top), Samsung P2 (left), and Coby MP835. You can list your music by Songs, Playlists, Albums, Artists, Genres, or Podcasts. The Album selection displays your cover art, but only three full images to choose from at a time. If you've got a small finger you might be able to select one of the albums that is cropped on the left or right. The font and spacing used only show five songs at a time. If you go into settings though you can rotate the screen display and see up to seven items listed at a time. It would be nice to see a longer list though so any song from an album could be picked without having to scroll the screen. If you just list songs in the portrait display it will show nine at a time. The portrait display isn't optimized for the SPINN's external controls, but if you prefer touching the screen it is more efficient. Options in the music player include Play Mode (Normal, Repeat, Repeat One, and Shuffle), Select EQ, Scan Speed, Playback Speed, and Lyric Display.

The FM radio application is decent, but also could use some additional features. You can record from FM which is nice and very simple to do on the SPINN. There are three quality settings for FM recording. There is an Auto-Preset option that lets you store up to 30 channels, and the SPINN make it easy to switch between presets and manual tuning. In manual mode a long touch of the arrow buttons will have the radio search for the next active channel in that direction. You can select the Tuner region, and also switch between stereo and mono modes. There is no RDS to help you determine the station/song/artist, which is sorely missed. The Zune or Samsung P2 both display RDS data from stations that support it. There is no way to pause or mute the radio. If you leave the radio app the radio stops playing. Better players will allow you to listen to radio while viewing photos or text.

The Text viewer is very basic. Only .TXT files are supported. You have three sizes of letters to choose from but only one font. There is an auto-scroll option and the ability to vary it's speed, but that is about the extent of it. Text looks fine on the screen, but white letter on the gray background will get tiring to look at if your document is long. The Samsung P2 has a GREAT text reader with background, orientation, fonts, font color, and other variables to play with.

The File Browser is just that. It displays the folder structure on the SPINN and you can drag any file displayed to a trash can icon for deletion.

The options accessible in the Settings menu include: Bluetooth, Date & Time, Sound, Display, Advanced, and Smart Key. With the Bluetooth option you can Add New Headset, choose from a previously listed headset, or drag a previous listing into the trash can to delete it. Date and Time simply let you set the current date and current time. Sound is where you'll find access to the custom equalizer, SRS WOW HD, Fade-In, and SPINN Volume (on or off?). Display Settings include Display Orientation, Backlight Timer, Wallpaper choices, Screen Brightness, Themes, Fonts, Menu Type, and an option to save the current UCI (assortment of display settings) for later recall. Advanced settings include Language, Sort order, Text Scroll Speed, Rebuild Library, Music Browse Type, Connection Type, Vibration, Power Off Type, System Info, Auto Power Off timing, and a Reset All Settings option. Lastly there is a Smart Key Setting which lets you assign what happens when you press and hold the SPINN's wheel.

User Interface. One thing I like about the SPINN is that it gives you a choice. All the touchscreen players out there suffer from fingerprint marks. The SPINN is the first one I've tested that allows you to control it with external controls OR touches of the screen. The key to it all is the SPINN wheel.
Add the Back button on top and you have almost every input you need. Spin the wheel to move up and down between menu choices. Press down on it to select. You can set a custom command to be activated when you press and hold the SPINN wheel. The touchscreen is fairly sensitive. I found it responsive. The only minor complaint is that many icons are near the edge of the screen and the raised screen frame occasionally limits fat finger access to those icons.

What the SPINN needs is more work. I sure hope IRiver is working on it. There is no gesture support. No multitouch. There is rare distinction between a short tap and a long touch on the screen. While better than several touchscreen players I've tested that use interfaces ported from non-touchscreen players, the SPINN has a long way to go to compete with the iPod Touch or Samsung P2.

The SPINN came with three applications including a Firmware Updater. What shows immature development is that the updater doesn't recognize the SPINN. It leaves me in doubt that they will improve the SPINN's firmware quickly.
EDIT: It's december 26th, and the Firmware Updater finally did recognize the SPINN. It looks like iriver is working on the web end of support for the SPINN. It's a good sign, but slow to get here.

Conclusion? The SPINN is a good player, but it's not worth the current asking price. The Samsung P2 is far more evolved. There is a P3 coming out in January that will be even better. The spin wheel is a great idea, but they should have exploited the touch screen more. I encountered a few (signal dropout) bugs using bluetooth. If you're looking for a great touchscreen media player, the SPINN isn't there yet.



  1. I dont know how to transport files from my laptop to my spinn, I think its hopeless because I've tryed and tryed but!!!!! It seems to be simple but hopeless for me. Thanks if U can help me

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Plug your SPINN into your laptop using the cable it came with. Turn ON the SPINN. Select "Power and Data".

    With your SPINN plugged into the laptop, open My Computer. You should see it listed among the drives there. Double click on it to open into the seperate folders for music, photos, video, etc.. Open another My Computer window and locate your media files. You should be able to simply drag and drop songs or photos or video into the relative folders on your SPINN.

    I hope that helps. Pretty basic really.

  4. I am interested to read your Spinn article.

    The Iriver company well known in S.Korea.

    possibly, if you want new firmware, you could able to download

    Korea is supposed to download well.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Ji Man. I like Iriver, and have kept my SPINN updated. It still requires a mix of SPINN and touch inputs to work, and I find it less efficient than pure touchscreen UIs.
    I'm hoping they bring their new touchscreen player to the U.S.. It looks like it could be strong competition for the other players.