Rock On With iRock 830: Music In Your Pocketwatch Pocket

T hereis been so much attention paid to Appleis little MP3 player that could it seems there are no other players on the market. Though Appleis iPod is the current king of the MP3 player hill, that doesnit mean that other players arenit worth a look-see.

If you are bound and determine to get an iPod, you need not read further, this review is not for you. However, if you feel the your wallet is denying you digital joy, then you just might find what we have to offer interesting. Over the next few months we intend to totally ignore the iPod and concentrate on other MP3 players; players that may surprise you with their versatility, capacity, cost, and design.

Weill be looking at 4 categories of MP3 players: Thereis the Hard Drive Players, which include players like the iPod, the Disc Player, which plays MP3 music from CDs youive recorded, the Removable Media Players which use solid state memory to hold your digitized music that can be swapped out, and the Built-in Memory Players which are players have built-in solid state memory and are usually so small that they can be clipped onto a keyring or hung around you neck.

Dinky Is As Dinky Does

First up in our series of alternatives to the iPod is a tiny MP3 player from First International Digital called iRock 830. Small is the operative word here: Measuring in at only 2.95" x 1.75" x 0.58", the iRock 830 falls into the category of Built-in Memory MP3 players. Even though the iRock 830 is small, it still offers an impressive array of features including a back lit display and easy-to-use buttons and switches.

The iRock 830
(Click the image for a larger view)

Whatis cool about the size of the iRock 830 is that you hardly notice it when youire not jammini to slammini tunes; itis so small that it is almost completely out of your way, in use or not. Think of a disposable lighter and you are close to the size and weight of the 830.

Jam Packed Jammer

Though light in weight, the iRock 830 is no lightweight; crammed inside its pearl white plastic and metal shell is 128MB of non-volatile RAM. Thatis room enough for about 25 high quality songs, or as much as 2 hours of music, but if you donit mind losing a few bits here and there you can get as much as 4 hours of tunes into the iRock.

When you first pull your iRock 830 from its package and put in the included battery, youill find a nice surprise; thereis music preloaded! Four tunes from relatively unknown artists are available for you to listen to, and thereis more music on the included CD. We think itis a great way for new artists to get exposure, while giving new iRock owners immediate musical gratification.

You can stuff more than songs in the iRock 830, and that where it become a versatile little jewel; load up files, digitized photos, or pretty much anything you want into the iRock 830 for easy transport. MP3is are treated like any other file as far as storage goes, so you can load up a bunch of MP3s and leave room for other files; the iRock 830 will obediently play the MP3 files and leave other files alone.

In case you tire of listening to your loaded tunes, you can always tune in an FM station; the iRock 830 has a built-in FM tuner with 20 presets.

Finger Tip Hip

Thereis an impressive array of controls on the iRock 830, and lots of little details that make this product stand out. For instance, you select songs or menu items using the jog-switch located on the side of the unit: move the switch up or down to move through your song list. Press the jog-switch once briefly and you are placed into the menu mode where you can adjust things like the screen contrast or set the unit to repeatedly play your songs. The jog-switch is easy to find without looking at the unit, and thereis a metal ridge to make it harder to inadvertently jog the jog-switch. The volume controls, next to the jog-switch, are also easy to find by touch alone, and you instantly know which side of the control will increase or decrease the volume due to the knobs; high knob for increase, low knob for decrease.

On the front of the iRock 830 is the three line, backlit display and the off/on/play/pause button, which is also very easy to find by touch alone. You donit have to use the screen to select a song; just hit play and jog through the songs, listening as you go, until you find the one you want. If you want to use the screen to select a song just pause or stop the current song and jog the jog-switch. A list of songs, three displayed at a time, appear and you can jog through them at your leisure.

Leave the controls idle for 30 sec with no music playing and the iRock 830 turns itself off.

Long Life Shorty

The single AA battery is what gives the iRock 830 any appreciable weight, otherwise youid need to hang it around your neck to keep from losing it. The battery can power the iRock 830 for up to 30 hours of continuous play, according to the iRock literature. We could not verify this as we have yet to deplete the original battery, and weive had the device for 3 weeks, playing it at least 30 minutes a day. The battery indictor still shows the battery to be fully charged. So, we think 30 hours is not unrealistic.

The Package

The iRock 830 comes with a nice set of ear buds, USB (1.0) cable, neck strap, a battery, and a handy vinyl case. The ear buds are comfortable and sounded great. Still, we would have preferred some light weight headsets. Since Apple includes ear buds with the iPod everyone seems to think that they are the ear devices to use while, in fact, some people find them very uncomfortable and others canit use them at all.

The vinyl cover covers the buttons of the iRock without making them hard to use. We also found that the cover makes the iRock 830 a bit more rugged, and it has a handy belt clip.

Also included in the package is the aforementioned CD with extra free music and manuals in PDF format.

Sour Notes

Remember that this is not an iPod, so integration with iTunes is not what it could or should be. This is partially Appleis fault: With the introduction of iTunes 4 Apple removed iTunes compatibility with non-Apple MP3 players. Presumably Apple did this to minimize complaints that songs downloaded from iTMS wonit play on players other than the iPod.

As it stands, to get music into the iRock 830, you must open the iTunes directory containing your music and drag-n-drop the songs you want to load in. This isnit as bad as it sounds, but is isnit anything like the synchronization process the iPod and iTunes has.

Another downside of the drag-n-drop music loading process is that you have no playlists; music plays in the order that you load them, or you can let the iRock randomly play your loaded tunes. Again, this isnit as bad as it sounds because the iRock is not designed to be a repository for your entire music collection, rather it is just a tunes player, something to use while rollerblading or shopping.

Though the included CD has the Mac OS symbol on it, you wonit find any software on the CD. In fact, the only thing on the CD that Mac users can use (or need) is the extra MP3 music files and the instruction manual, which is hidden away in a folder simply named iPDFsi.

We would have a least liked to have reasonable folder names to make navigation to the manual a bit easier. Once youive found the manual, however, Mac and PC users will find it very useful.

Wrap up

We found the iRock 830 to be a great little player with detailed and well planned controls, and an easy to read screen. The little player doubles as USB pen drive, which adds to its usefulness. In fact, anyone thinking about picking up a RAM Drive would do well to buy the iRock 830 instead and enjoy some bumpini tunes while you move around files. More attention could have been paid to Mac users on the CD, but thatis hardly a reason not to buy an iRock 830.

At US$100, the iRock 830 is a bargain that even current iPod owner may want to take advantage of.

Product: iRock 830 MP3 Player

Company: First International Digital, Inc.

List Price: $99

Vendor Price: US$93.95

Any Mac with USB and OS X

Pros: Small size and weight, easy to use buttons, nice screen for its size, can be used as a RAM drive, PDF manuals are very good, very inexpensive.
Cons: Does not talk to iTunes, no playlists, no software on CD for Mac users.