Trim and Sexy 2nd-gen Iriver Clix Hands On

When the original iriver Clix came out, it made waves with its clickable faceplate navigation, but it was chunky and expensive. The second-generation model completely eliminates those issues with a slimmer design and pricing that’s competitive with that of the iPod nano. It’s got all the features you’d need in an MP3 player, as well as sound quality that even picky listeners will dig — a worthy iPod alternative!

It’s currently available in only 2GB ($149) and 4GB ($199) versions, but an 8GB ($249) model is due out later this summer.

Design and accessories
The Clix is very sexy-looking, with an all-black plastic body that measures a mere 3.2 by 1.8 by .5 inches and a 2.2-inch AMOLED screen. The front faceplate is a four-way clickable button; on my review unit, the faceplate actually felt a bit loose, but nothing fell apart. There’s a pinhole mic and two small thin buttons on the top (volume up/down), a standard USB mini port and two more buttons on the right (power and assignable function), as well as a hold switch on the bottom. The headphone jack is on the left.

Included in the package is a pretty solid set of black earbuds, a USB cable, and an installation CD (which isn’t necessary for Win XP or later).

Iriver has always been keen on lots of features, so they’ve packed the Clix with a voice recorder, FM tuner, alarm clock, text viewer, support for Macromedia Flash-based games (including Sudoku!), and video and photo playback. Whew! The built-in rechargeable battery isn’t removable, but it’s good for about 24 hours of audio (about the same as the iPod nano) or 5 hours of video per charge.

Interface and operation
The button marked with an asterisk is assignable to one of a double-handful of functions — A-B repeat (a.k.a. section loop) made the most sense for my own needs, but it’s set to Home by default. Navigating the menu system is a breeze, though I usually had to operate the Clix with both hands to really zip around the speedy interface. The default wallpaper looks very cool, and you can adjust the color or change the picture.

Audio and video
Audio format support is nice and broad, including WM DRM content, OGG, WMA, and MP3, but sadly no AAC support. The Clix sounds very good without any of the sound enhancements enabled, but settings tweakers will appreciate the abundant audio options. The included earbuds aren’t half bad for stock headphones, but the sound quality is good enough that you may want to upgrade to something a lot better.

The Clix handles AVI videos of the MPEG-4 variety, but you’re on your on for converting your existing content (try iriverter), and there’s no readily available source for preformatted content. Video plays back at only 15 frames per second, so I doubt anyone will want to watch anything more than short clips. Photos look sharp and bright on the AMOLED screen, and you can watch slideshows while you listen to tunes.

When switching from MTP to UMS mode and vice versa, all your contents are deleted — the player actually reformats itself instead of just switching connect modes. Why can’t manufacturers get this right anymore? Older players like the Samsung T7 could handle switching back and forth just fine without erasing anything. Oy!

Also, the volume buttons seem like they’re reversed — up is on the left and down is on the right. Holy counterintuitive! Or maybe I’m just slow. And if the buttons were wider, they could wear the labels, instead of having to turn over the player to see them.

One thing that has always puzzled me about the Clix interface is that you push up or down on the faceplate to skip tracks or FF/REW, and you click right to play/pause, while left gets you back to the main menu. It seems like the skip buttons should be on the right and left, with play/pause and Menu on bottom and top. (Yeah, I realize that’s the iPod click wheel layout too.)

Bottom line
I continue to applaud iriver for embracing a unique design concept, and the second-gen Clix is very satisfying for music lovers, offering plenty of features, compatibility, and ease of use, not to mention very good sound. If you’re more into video, though, you’ll want to look elsewhere–perhaps the “invincible” Cowon D2.

Overall, this is an excellent choice for iPod haters or people just looking for something different. The Flash games are a cool bonus, but beware their addictiveness… download them for free here. With any luck, iriver will support the latest Clix with some cool accessories too.