iAudio X5

portable mp3/ogg player


The iAudio X5 is a hard drive-based music and video player, similar to an iPod in size and overall purpose, but with a bigger feature set and lower cost.

First Impressions

I got a X5 today. It's pretty spiffy. It's little and holds/plays a lot of music, including mp3 and ogg (vorbis) files. Yay. :) I chose the X5 because I specifically wanted something which...
  • is small/portable
  • plays music
  • has 20G or more space (I got the 30G version)
  • supports both mp3 and ogg
  • is Linux-compatible
  • appears to the computer as a generic usb storage device
  • works with my existing structured directories of music
  • can record/play voice (optional)
The iAudio X5 fits all of my criteria, and has several bonuses too. First, it costs less than any similar device I've found. Also, it plays xvid videos, can display pictures, and has a FM tuner. These features aren't things I care about, but they're nice extras. It can do other stuff too, like suck pictures straight from popular digital cameras, but I really doubt I'll ever use that feature.

The first thing I did with the X5, after a brief glance through its menus, was upgrade its firmware to the latest, v2.10b4. This proved fairly easy; just download a file and dump it onto the player in a special directory, then reboot the X5. I don't know if the update was necessary (it came with 2.07), but I've heard only good things about the new versions.

The interface would be nicer with an analog input of some sort -- something which could sense how hard you press or how quickly you move, and adjust things (menu cursor, seek speed, etc) accordingly. A touch-sensitive surface like the iPod's wheel would work nicely. As for the rest of the interface, it seems nice so far. The only limitation I've noticed is that the device has only binary inputs. This slows down the interface, and makes it less usable for anyone with RSI.

The product manual was obviously written by someone who isn't a native English speaker. It's informative, but uses weird grammar, so many phrases are convoluted. Certain details are also somewhat difficult to find in the manual, even if you half-remember where to look. Semi-important details tend to be hidden as "tips" between sections rather than being placed in the section they discuss.

It seemed to do something odd earlier tonight. I told it to play my Led Zeppelin collection (with shuffle on), and it stopped after a couple hours. I didn't notice at the time, so I didn't get to see why it stopped. But I don't know whether I should be concerned. The battery wasn't low; my guess is that it encountered a file it didn't understand (text, maybe?) and simply stopped. I'll figure out later what went wrong.

So far, my overall impression of the device is good. I'd give it 4/5 stars, only falling short due to its lack of analog inputs, and some other rather minor things (no crossfader, inability to play music while plugged into the computer, engrish manual). But I can't complain -- it meets all my criteria beautifully, and costs less than other music players.

What would I change?

If I could magically change things about the X5, here's what I'd do:

Remove the USB host features and port. Use the extra space for built-in versions of the ports on the mini-dock instead. It'd be nice to have a USB client port instead of the host port, and also have a built-in power plug. I'm much more likely to want power or file transfers than to want to plug in my camera -- so the usb host port should probably be the add-on. This just seems like its creators guess wrong about their customers' priorities.

Replace the joystick with a touchpad.

Remove the "color sound" logo next to the screen. It may be clever in Korea, but in the US it just sounds silly.

Remove the "digital pride" boot-up screen.

Make the OS multitask better, so you could look at pictures and transfer files while listening to music.


So far, the device is working well. Sound quality is great, playback features are sufficient, and I'm pretty happy with it. I have noticed a few more things which are odd, though.

Today I was having trouble connecting it to a computer. Every time I plugged it in, it would show a screen saying "safe to disconnect" instead of "connected". I tried restarting the USB drivers and connecting it to more than one computer before I found a solution -- the X5 simply needed to reboot. That's easy enough, though... just unplug it from power and USB, then turn it on/off. Afterward, it worked fine again.

I've been trying to convert videos to watch on it. To do this, I'm using mplayer/mencoder/xvid in Linux. It seems to work okay, though I haven't found the optimal settings yet. I'll post details later, once I've settled on the best settings. Or, for those of you with Java, you can use "iriverter", a front end to mencoder. It supports the X5.

I verified yesterday that it does actually charge while playing, if it's plugged into power. It doesn't indicate this onscreen, but the charge light eventually went from red to green. However, the "battery full" variable seems to get reset when it shouldn't. For example, plug it into power, then let it play music for a while (until the charge light is green). Then turn the device off. The light turns red, and it starts charging again (even though it's full). So, it could potentially be overcharged this way. Until the firmware is fixed, I'll just be careful not to plug it in when it's already full.

BTW, in case you were wondering, 160x128 is not a big enough screen to read subtitles from. I transcoded some fansubs, but the subtitle font was unreadable at that size. So, stick to videos dubbed in your native language.

Misc notes

I've had the X5 for over a month now, and I'm very happy with it. It's been getting fairly heavy use, in my pocket, in my backpack, and in the car, and still looks brand new. I did manage to scrape a tiny amount of paint off with my keys while holding too many things at once, but otherwise I can't tell the difference between its current state and how it looked when I first opened it. I don't think I'm going to actually need a carrying case for it, since it's rather durable as-is.

The non-flat shape of the front of the X5 is a little odd at first, but I've actually found it rather comfortable. It allows me to use the device while it's in my pocket, without having to reach in. The raised surface makes it easy to tell which way is which, and the joystick sticks out just the right amount to be usable through clothing. This provides many of the benefits of having a remote control, without the drawbacks of additional wires and such.
Last modified: September 28, 2005 @ 4:08 MDT
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