The iRiver clix Rhapsody is, hardware wise, the same iRiver clix we reviewed a few months back. It's a sexy mini media player, and we urge you to check out what ex-GizmodoGod Travis said about the device in his reviews here and here.
So why do we care? This new edition of the clix has been tweaked—and while the hardware remains unchanged—the software has been modified with "Rhapsody DNA," allowing the user ways to discover new music on the road. And we dug it.
We've always been suspicious of memberships like Rhapsody. After all, there are a limited number of tracks with odd holes in the artist lineup, and you lose all your precious music whenever you leave. But despite these subscription stereotypes, which turned out to be completely true, we still think the service is worth considering.
The fundamental basis of Rhapsody is in the Library. When browsing either through their bundled software or logged in through their website, it only takes one click of a button (that looks a lot like play) to add a track or entire album to your Library. Building your Library is like an Amazon shopping spree, as each artist's page holds recommended artists that lead you to more recommended artists. And with one click, each album is yours.
Then, using the bundled software, it's just a matter of dragging and dropping to your clix to load the music. Your computer then downloads the tracks straight to the clix, which takes about a minute and a half per album. (You can also play the music either online or through the software, which requires only a few seconds to buffer and load.)
But while building a Library from recommendations works well, we aren't seeing the real potential of clix Rhapsody implementation yet—better known as Channels.
The Channels are where Rhapsody and clix come together...sorry for this...harmoniously. While Rhapsody has long offered Channels—which are essentially 26-track radio stations that allow you to explore music that's in a similar vein to your favorite artists—the clix allows you to easily rate and tag the new music you like. We'll explain...
Scenario: You are on the subway, listening to a Channel named "Bands Like Death Cab for Cutie." After skipping through the tracks like a playlist, you find a song by the Pixies you like. You hold the right direction on the clix to access a special menu and select "Add to Playlist." Then, when you reconnect the clix to your PC, the song is quickly added to your Library.
And if you want to access all the Pixies' albums, they're just a right click away. But even better, you can build your own Channels based upon your favorite artists, which will customize music precisely to your taste. Greatest invention ever, right? It sure feels like it, and the experience of "Rhapsody DNA" on the clix feels so close to perfect.
The problems we had weren't due to either the clix or the Rhapsody service—both of those elements are pretty remarkable on their own.
We had issues with the required RealNetworks' Rhapsody software. First, there are just way too many buttons, tabs and windows. Simple tasks become tedious as you realize that Channels aren't listed in your Library, but under their own tab within the Library. And updating Channels seems to require going through the clix's icon, not your user/PC library. Confusing? Exactly.
The software would run but barely functioned on a p4 1.8ghz machine. Files often wouldn't upload, etc. It worked better on our newer system, but it was riddled with frequent microdelays, many of which are due to track caching, many of which are due to (we're guessing) bad programming.
The clix is a powerful video player, and Rhapsody has a multitude of music videos for streaming. Why can't you load these videos onto the clix? If it is possible, we were unable to find a way.
The Rhapsody software will detect your iTunes library and import it, even offering to find subscription versions of your tracks/albums to fill out your collection. The process takes hours, literally. But luckily you only do it once.
You can record both voice and radio on the clix Rhapsody, fluidly and clearly. But within Rhapsody's software, there is no option to download these MP3s to your collection. Luckily, you can download this content directly from the device.
And no Mac support will deter a small market of users.
Despite these setbacks, we'd highly recommend the $189.99 clix Rhapsody player. A $12.99 monthly fee is the price of an album, and we guarantee you'll be downloading hundreds of dollars of music within the first day with recommendations that are far more than a gimmick. The clix is a great piece of hardware by itself. Its OLED display is bright and colorful, its menus are intuitive and its Rhapsody integration within UI is extremely fluid. (Why the volume buttons are mapped backwards, we'll never know.)
We're just hoping that the middle management software gets an update soon.