Reviewing iRiver LPlayer: Pretty good for audio podcasting in African villages

Why review audio recorders?

This latest blog series came from my frustration with the total lack of reviews on cheap audio recorders for international development projects and exotic travelogues. I also review Cowon’s iAudio U2 (my previous all-around standard recorder) and the Eridol by Roland (my top-of-the-line recommendation). Soon to come – this is the only place you’ll find reviews of some totally generic look-alikes from China I’ve ordered from no-name companies, because my vision is to stumble upon a $10 audio recorder you can give an illiterate kid without worry about the quality of the recording. If Flip Cams can do this, why can’t audio devices? All scores are a on a 1-10 scale for quality.

Criteria

Price: 7 $40 new. Bottom end digital voice recorders are $20 per unit, but this one does more.
Audio: 5 – The built in mic gets the job done, saves in MP3 (96-92 kbps), and seems to pick up regular conversations at ambient volumes. Will not work on a busy street or in a crowded room. NO line in for external microphones, although other iRiver models do have these (like T30).

Memory: 7 – 4GB is huge for audio, but reasonable for video.

Simple to use: 9 or 10 – despite all the iRiver LPLayer can do, this device is really easy to handle. Only 8 buttons. And as a true testament to intuitive design, it does not come with any instruction manual! I struggled with it for 2 minutes out of the box until I realized that (a) the battery was dead and (b) the hold button on the back had been set to “locked,” so none of the buttons would work. However, with the hold button off you can figure out how to navigate this easily. I only wish the user interface used more icons instead of english words for the features, so that I could give it to someone who doesn’t read any language but can recognize symbols for music, video, recording, and settings.

Developing World Compatibility: 2 (awful)

the LPlayer uses MTP (media transfer protocol) to connect to a PC. MTP requires Media Player 10, and Media Player 10 requires Windows XP. Sorry, most computers in 3rd world countries do not have Windows XP / Media Player 10 installed correctly – so this recorder is not village plug-n-play ready. It can charge via any USB port, but cannot transfer files easily. That’s a deal breaker for me.

Look and feel: 10 – does it really matter? It shouldn’t, but just holding the iRiver LPlayer makes want to use it! So yes aesthetics does affect what people do with a recorder. If the interface sucks or the OS crashes, people will just not record conversations when they should.

Overall:

6 – It does much more than I needed, was easy to use, and has an amazing minimalist interface. I’m attracted to simplicity and reliability. I only wish they sold a 1GB version for $10 that doesn’t do video and DID have an external microphone line-input, and was backward compatible for file transfer. Then I would recommend every NGO on the planet use this in a heartbeat.

Extended Features
Whoa! There’s a 3cm color LCD on the LPlayer that plays movies! Why you would want such a small movie player, I don’t know. To summarize main features:

Music player (16 hours on full charge?)
FM radio (antenna scores a 7 – better than average and passes my Washington DC elevator test)
Voice recorder (MP3)
USB 2.0 (for data and recharging. Uses standard mini-USB and appears as removable disk on PC and Mac)
Video player (4 hours on full charge)
Flash drive (4 or 8 GB)

More information: IRiver.com

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