Starting at £149 for a 1GB model the iRiver B20 doesn't exactly deliver on the GB-per-pound front, but there's more to this PMP (portable media player) than meets the eye.
It appears that merely playing music is no longer enough for today's MP3 player, and today's PMP has to deliver at least music, video and photographs.
Starting at £149 for a 1GB model the iRiver B20 doesn't exactly deliver on the GB-per-pound front, especially now that Apple is selling 8GB iPod nanos for £129 and 8GB iPod classics for £159. However, the iRiver B20 has a couple of tricks up its sleeve including a built-in speaker, voice recording, Flashlite games, a miniSD expansion slot, a wealth of playback formats and - last but certainly not least - built-in FM and DAB radio.
First impressions of the iRiver B20 aren't particularly good though. Whilst the 2.4in TFT LCD screen is certainly impressive, it is surrounded by a large bevel that sports four buttons (one on each side of the screen).
The whole front of the iRiver B20 swivels to acts as a large button, with you clicking each side of the screen to move through options. Fortunately it handles a lot better than it looks, and is an interesting alternative to the touch-sliders and scrollwheels that mark other models. Around the sides of the device sit volume buttons, a home button, a power button and hold slider. Navigation is smooth and intuitive, the user interface is good and both video and audio playback is superb.
Still, there is a nagging feeling that the iRiver B20 isn't as high quality as the price tag seems to demand. This isn't helped by the cheap-feeling set of earphones and the absence of other additions (case, carry-strap etc.)
The cheap-and-nasty feel is also compounded by the Irivers' insistence on providing its dreadful iriver Plus3 software to sync music and video to the device. Barely a step up from dragging files directly to the Flash drive, the software is a dire alternative to Microsoft's own Media Player.
On the whole you are rather left wondering what happened to your £150. The answer is undoubtedly the DAB functionality. Having spoken to many digital device manufactuers we can confirm that adding DAB to a device throws up the cost considerably. Partly because of the additional components required, but also because DAB is a localised UK format, which means that DAB components aren't as mass-produced and DAB devices can't be sold world-wide. The result is that DAB radio remains an expensive game and goes some way to explaining the general lack of DAB-enabled devices doing the rounds.
To enable the iRiver B20 to recieve a decent signal it comes with an aerial tucked into the side, this extends roughly 20cm and - when extended - we managed to get 25 digital stations. As with most DAB radios the audio quality is superb; certainly better than FM stations. Having to extend the aerial to get a reception does limit the manouverablility of the iRiver B20, however, thanks to the built-in speaker it does resemble an exceptionally small portable radio and is perfect for placing on a desk and listening to.
And if you think of the iRiver B20 as an exceptionally portable DAB radio that also doubles as a versatile music and video player, it starts to make sense.
At £150 for just 1GB, the iRiver B20 can hardly be thought of as value for money. And we can't see why iRiver is charging so much for the 2GB, or 4GB versions when it is so much cheaper to add memory via the SD socket. Certainly with both Apple and Creative offering 8GB for £129, and Apple offering the 80GB iPod classic for the same amount, you'd really have to want DAB radio to invest in a iRiver B20. Still, the presence of DAB in such a portable form is impressive, it's just a shame that it's let down by a lack of storage space.