Even with Apple dropping the price of the iPod and offering a variety of different storage options depending on your needs, not every Mac user can afford one — nor does everyone need the gigabytes of storage capacity the iPod offers. There’s still a market for MP3 players that store files on flash media and trade large capacity for small size. That’s where First International Digital’s US$130
comes into play.
Driving an iRock
Molded in a metallic red and silver finish with some chrome embellishments, the iRock 530 is tiny and easily fits in the palm of your hand, a shirt pocket, or a jacket pocket without creating any disturbance. The iRock 530 has a built-in LCD display that shows track number, track time, volume, battery life, equalization settings and a few other user-controllable features.
The iRock 530 comes in a retail-friendly hard plastic blister pack with everything you need to get started. A battery is included, along with a set of earbud headphones, a USB cable, a CD-ROM containing plug-ins for iTunes (along with PC software) and an optional (thank goodness) pink wriststrap.
The tiny MP3 player sports 128MB of built-in memory, along with an expansion slot that can accommodate a SmartMedia card for additional storage. With 128MB of capacity, the iRock 530 can hold about 2 hours of MP3 files depending on their bit-rate, and because it’s solid state, the iRock can handle plenty of jostling while you’re out walking the dog or having a run.
Unlike the iPod, the iRock 530 sports USB — not FireWire. But with 128MB to fill up (256MB if you throw in another SmartMedia card), it only takes a few minutes to fill up anyway.
iRock and iRoll
Controls are simple and fairly intuitive, after a minute or two of experimentation. The left side of the iRock features a rubberized cover that hides a USB jack along with a Mode button that lets you activate EQ settings, bass boost and various repeat play modes. The right edge has volume control buttons and a jog switch used to navigate the contents of the device. The top edge, where you plug the headphones in, also sports a sliding Hold switch that will prevent the iRock from being turned off or switching tracks if your keys accidentally jostle the jog switch.
Powered by a single AAA battery, the iRock 530 lasts for about 8 to 10 hours before it needs more juice. There’s no option for recharging or AC power, however. With a device this small and inexpensive, it’d probably be superfluous anyway.
I didn’t particularly care for the quality of the earbuds that came with the iRock, and I don’t like earbuds to begin with (sorry, Apple). I replaced the earbuds that came with the iRock with a set of over-the-ear Sony headphones I picked up a while ago, and found they had better bass response and clarity than the included ones. Your mileage may vary, obviously. Other than that, I had absolutely no complaints or problems to report with the little iRock 530.
The iRock 530 is a durable, eminently useful little MP3 player. It may have significantly lower storage capacity compared with the iPod and doesn’t double as a portable hard drive, but it’s also less than half the price. To that end, the iRock 530 succeeds: It dents your wallet less, and takes up less space in your pocket, too.
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