iRiver PMP-120 review

4.5 out of 5
£359

For

20GB internal memory. 20GB of internal memory holds up to 5000 songs and 80 hours of video

Against

It comes at a price. USB transfer only. Won't record direct from DVD

The PMP-120 (or 'Pimp Daddy', as we know it in the office) really does the business. Why? Because unlike other portable media players we've been lucky enough to get our mitts on, the PMP has both the memory and battery life needed to power movies on the move.

Without enough onboard memory, the whole point breaks down. A media player that lacks the battery life to run a whole movie makes the rip, burn and transfer not worth the effort. When all you are left with is a glorified MP3 player, you might as well find something in that category. It's a tricky one to pull off, as the convergence of portable media comes at a high price tag and the option to buy a budget portable DVD and a flash stick MP3 is altogether tempting.

So, with plenty of memory and battery life, what else is there to discuss? Well, the battery life may be slightly less than the 5 hours video playback stated. We found it was more like 3 hours. MP3 wise, expect more like the majority of the 10-hour run, roughly the same for the built-in radio.

The 3.5" screen is nice and clear, if a little difficult to use outdoors, but bear in mind even the best backlight screens suffer here.

Another nice feature is the prop round the back- handy for train journeys, skiving at one's desk or even watching movies in the bathtub. However therein lies another problem here. Because the prop isn't adjustable, you have to find a spot and stick to it to see the screen. Good job then that the simple shape of the PMP makes it comfortable to hold. The horizontal grasp is sensible, with ergonomic slots on the back. The buttons are easy to reach to, with a navi-key and buttons on the left and more buttons to the right. The whole thing reminds us of the Lynx handheld games console from back in the day.

The sound is good, both via the included headphones and the speaker. The sound levels are ok too, partly because although ripping and burning takes more time, the end result is a better quality .avi file. Other file types supported are ASF, MP4, MPG and DivX.Windows Media Player is built in for the sound files and the transfer via USB 2.0 is helped by backward compatibility to function with USB 1.1 devices. Happily, the PMP series all work as plug and play devices on both XP PC and Mac. CD is included for Win SE/98/ME.

While the buttons are easy to reach, the response time can be a little sluggish. The PMP features on board help, to save hitting the manual (doesn't read that well) but as operations are fairly straightforward, dive right in and you'll get the gist. The navigation is fairly easy to pick up. There are settings and record hotkeys, with most functionality accessed through the one button. Some features trigger a pop-up window, but the on screen displays don't marry up too well with the buttons, in the way a mobile phone OSD does. Also, the lag time on response to clicks can cause confusion, especially a problem with video playback, where the delay seems all the more evident. Furthermore, with no chapter skip, the fast forwarding can be problematic and in some instances, lead to a loss of synchronisation between sound and vision. Bear in mind that the use of video on a portable media device treads along a fine line with regard to piracy. While the alternatives from Archos will record direct from a playing DVD, the PMP accepts ripped files only. This not only means breaking copyright, but also the physical hassle of breaking down to DivX or AVI. That said, the bi-directional USB 2.0 transfer is the simple. Twin sockets and plug ‘n' play make the PMP very easy to use, once the source material is in place. For basic audio file transfer, there is direct input available too. If you need to view your content on the big screen, plugging into a TV is easy using the included cable.

Video has got to be the selling point here. Quite how often you'd need to display digital camera images on this device via USB id debateable, although the voice recorder functionality is pretty much an exclusive to iRiver. And with regard to size, shape and weight, we prefer this to the Archos equivalents. Transfer is simpler with their models, but the quality not so. Creative's portable media player weighs in at the same level in terms of price, looks and capability, with efforts from Mustek and DM-Tech lagging behind.

Verdict

The best personal media player we have reviewed so far. A shame about the battery life, which was a little shorter than quoted in the spec, but don't be put off- this is the best device for movies on the go I've seen yet.

It's movies that will really shift this unit, but don't forget the MP3, FM radio and picture aspect too. Also, iRiver doesn't cut any corners on the bundle. USB, converter, leads and hard case are all included. When popped in the hard case, it should take a few knocks and there is a handy screen wipe too.

If you favour the direct transfer of DVD from your computer (there are obvious legal issues to be tackled here), than you might favour the Archos Gmini400 or AV320/340/360, but you would do well to consider the weight issue. These are big beasts and a little ugly in our view. The PMP-120 isn't as graceful as an iPod, but it doesn't weight much more either. Price wise, its not cheap, but nor is the competition. At least here you needn't fuss about with extra memory. Well done iRiver. This should give Creative's offering a run for its money. The PMP 140 features 40 GB, if you need more.