I’m happy to say I can finally talk about a project I’ve been involved in for the past six months. As I’ve mentioned, I returned to the digital media space at Microsoft after receiving an opportunity to work for my old General Manager reporting directly to the VP of Digital Media at Microsoft on End to End Experiences (the other E3). Part of the job involves picking targeted oppportunities to go deep on digital media product development.
One of the first of these projects has just launched. The “iriver clix” – a new portable media player from iRiver. Designed to work great with Windows Media Player 11 and the new Urge music service launching today from MTV, the clix may look similar to the award-winning iRiver U10, but it’s so much more. Our team worked closely with iRiver, providing feedback, usability resources, and assistance on interaction design starting with a complete “teardown” of the existing iRiver U10 product. Here’s a quick breakdown on what’s new/improved with this release:
- 2GB and 1GB versions
- New faster processor
- New faster graphics engine
- All-new UI and improved interaction
- Now supports Now Playing with Album Art, next song preview
- Album Art, Ratings, Playcount, and Playlists sync directly with WMP11
- Improved power management w/ sleep mode
- Faster sync speeds
- Faster playback of clear & subscription content
- New “Smart Key” replaces display pivot button (Home, Play/Pause, Shuffle All, Display pivot, Start/Stop Recording)
- Improved packaging for US market
- Easy Start CD with WMP11 and MTV’s Urge in-box (for US market)
I’m going to be a little biased, so check out CNet’s review hot off the presses(Note: They have horrible screenshots). Over the next few days, I’ll post my thoughts on different areas, and answer questions about the device.
On first blush, the device keeps its popular black front with white backing design and clean lines. Why mess with what’s winning awards? The D-pad is built directly into the face of the device, creating a comfortable click sound/feel when you press it (part of the reason for the new name). Hold a clix device and you’ll notice something different. The backing feels smoother, almost like a polished stone. Flip it over and you’ll see the device now has a clearcoat, like a freshly waxed car. Keeping the car analogy going,you’ll also notice the simplification of logos on the back – this isn’t a Nascar vehicle after all. What remains is a clear logo and a few required details.
Power Up & Main Menu
Gone is the NTSC test pattern when you boot up the device, instead you’ll see a fast, animated startup sequence that reveals the new main menu. The main menu has been reduced in complexity – going down to 7 main items: Music, Pictures, Videos, Settings, Extras, FM Radio, and Now Playing. Now Playing is a new item- making it easy to get back to music playback wherever you are. Features such as voice recording and Flash games are available in the extras menu. The main menu item appears to “glow” when selected. Sharp eyes will notice some nice touches that build affinities in look/feel with Windows Media Player and even Media Center.
Connect & Sync
For the best experience in my opinion, connect the clix to a machine running WMP11. New polished on-screen status tells you the current state of the device, enabling you to disconnect at any point when the device isn’t actively busy- something the iPod still doesn’t have. Sync with this device is fast- much faster than the u10, and on-par with some of the best devices out there. Album Art, even playlists sync directly. iriver engineers spent a lot of time on optimizations here.
Music, Photos, and Playlists sync effortlessly with WMP11. I regularly load my device with “Feeds” from Urge – dynamic playlists that are auto-updated next time I sync. The device even handles fringe cases such as a custom playlist with music and photos- select the playlist in Music and it will just play the music, but it will also show up in Photos for playback of photos as well.
This is the best part. You can do the usual things- build a quick list, play it back etc. But the clix now supports album art, ratings, and host of other items sync’d with WMP. You can rate songs on the device, and on next sync, “round trip” the rating back to you player library, effectively making it smarter. EQ has been cleaned up and improved, and SRS WoW continues to be a bass-boostin feature. Fade in/out is turned off by default, but supported as well for a crossfading effect.
More to come…