Car Gadget Review: iRiver L Player 4GB

What is it: 4GB or 8GB flash-based MP3 player
Price: $99-$129

Overview: We needed a non-iPod, non-Zune MP3 player to add to our arsenal of players used to test automakers’ newest audio systems. Many vehicles have USB ports they claim work with multiple players, while others are just good for iPods. Our house Zune has run up against issues that may be due to its specific hardware, though, so in comes the L Player. We’ll be reviewing more devices like this in the future, but mostly in the context of how they work in cars. We’re not going to go all tech crazy just for the sake of it.

Back to the L Player … the best thing about it is its size. It’s slightly smaller than an iPod Nano, but thicker. It doesn’t have the substantial weight of the Nano, but it doesn’t feel like it will break, either. The L Player’s edges are the controls; toggle one of the four edges to pick songs, change settings, etc. The volume and power buttons are separate and easy to access.

Ease of use while driving: 20 (out of 30)
There are two things going for the L Player that you just can’t overlook: For one, it’s tiny. You can fit it in any car, even if your cubbies are overstuffed with other … stuff. You can also stash it just about anywhere when getting out of the car in order to hide it from potential thieves.

The second thing going for it is the D Click system. It’s a no-brainer while driving and listening to the player through an analog auxiliary jack. Click one edge twice to skips songs, click another side twice to pause (once to bring up the screen, once to perform the action). This is much better than an iPod scroll wheel while driving because you don’t have to look down to perform simple actions. 

The major downside is the way the L Player displays song names in an extremely thin font on a dark background. It’s very hard to quickly glance down and see what song is playing, and my album artwork never displayed. If you’re hooked up through a USB port that displays song titles on a screen then this isn’t an issue. If you’re plugged into a standard auxiliary jack, though, it’s a major problem.

Ease of use outside the car: 5 (out of 10)
I didn’t like the D Click system at my desk nearly as much as I did a click wheel or the Zune’s setup, and I hate the iPod click wheel. D Click just wasn’t as intuitive, and I grew tired of all the double-clicking. For the public transit rider, jogger or biker, though, this is still an excellent choice because of its size and light weight — and again, skipping tracks without looking is always a bonus. 

Compatibility with most cars: 8 (out of 10)
I tried out the L Player in multiple USB-equipped vehicles, but only the Sync system in a 2008 Mercury Sable seemed to work, but that's not the L Player's fault. It worked flawlessly with Sync, but Sync seems to work with everything. Other automakers’ systems I tested were iPod only.

Setup: 9 (out of 10)
There’s a small disc that you can load onto your PC to get media on the player, but I recommend not doing that. Just plug the L Player into your computer via a provided mini USB cable (yes, any run-of-the-mill mini USB cable works) and it will sync flawlessly with Windows Media Player. At least it did for me. You can also drag and drop files if you open the L Player as a separate drive, which is pretty neat. I was not able to get album art to display on the L Player, however, and I’m looking into why.

Features: 16 (out of 20)
For a relatively cheap MP3 player, the L Player really does everything. It can play music, video, display photos, play FM radio, record FM radio, record your voice for notes and handles just about every file type known to man. The cheap-o earbuds that came with it are probably the biggest detractor, but I think most people have upgraded their output devices by now, and if you haven’t you should. However, both the Zune and iPod earbuds are perfectly good for casual listening. I would not allow my children to ruin their hearing with the L Player set.

20 (out of 20)
For the money, you get a lot of features in a cool-looking package. If your car can use a USB device like Ford’s Sync can, this little gem is a terrific iPod alternative.

Final score: 77 out of 100

Photo Gallery

Car Gadgets

Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David