The iRiver T8 is a USB drive that also plays music. It's highly portable, but not always the easiest device to use. The iRiver T8 comes in 2GB and 4GB flavours.
In the MP3 player sector, small is beautiful. People love the idea of squeezing lots of music on to a tiny device.
The thing is, smallness is often less of a thrill in practice. Coin-sized MP3 players look great, but it takes humane design to make them usable. More often, designers fall down and worship the twin gods Minimalism and Small Form Factor, gleefully sacrificing extraneous details such as adequately labelled controls. Apple's third-gen iPod shuffle, for instance, has no navigation buttons at all on the player itself, forcing the user to select tracks using a single button on the headphone cable. How does the iRiver T8 stack up?
iRiver T8: Navigation
The iRiver T8 doesn't go quite that far, but certainly doesn't make life easy. Four directional buttons control everything except volume, and it takes a fair bit of trial and error to work out which button does what. (It may be easier for paying customers, however: our pre-release review sample didn't come with an instruction manual, but iRiver assures us these will be included as standard.)
The up and down arrows select items in menus, and also function as forward and back within playlists; left takes you back a step to the previous menu; right is effectively select (or forward one menu step), play and pause. Bizarrely, when you hit the right button midway through a song, the iRiver T8's audio fades out rather than stopping instantly; press again and it fades back in at the same point.
There's a dedicated volume control but this is, for no earthly reason we can make out, context-sensitive. If you're in any menu other than the 'now playing' one, pressing down on the iRiver T8's volume button has no effect. This is infuriating, user-unfriendly design – what else are these buttons needed for?
iRiver T8: Design
The iRiver T8 takes the general shape of a biggish (circa 2000) USB thumb drive, and has a USB 2.0 connector under a cap at one end. Simply plug this into your PC and drag-and-drop songs into the drive.
It comes in white, black, pink or an appealing matt banana-yellow, and in 2GB and 4GB capacities. The iRiver T8 has a tiny, mono screen, which offers the bare minimum of song details and allows you to navigate through menus. It's about as basic as a screen can be, but is one up on the screen-free shuffle.
For all its lack of weight, the iRiver T8 is a sturdy little device, and you'll endure few worries about breaking the screen, because it's small and protectively recessed. The low price tag will also help assuage any fears of breaking the device, of course.
iRiver T8: Sound quality and features
The iRiver T8 is normally supplied with iSound earphones, but again, our review sample came without. We therefore tested it with some mid-quality Teufel headphones, and the iRiver T8 produced respectable sound quality. It distorts quite quickly once you increase the volume and isn't always perfectly clear, but there's a fair amount of bass – more than we expected from such a basic device, anyway.
The iRiver T8 seems to have the potential to provide decent audio but, as usual with MP3 players, your audio experience will depend heavily on your choice of headphones.
There's an FM radio, but this struggled to get a good signal when we tested it in central London, latching on to five or so stations in turn but producing only a crackly approximation of each. And you can't manually tune to seek a better reception.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>