While I have always been a fan of Fiio’s build quality, the level of finish on their devices always left me wanting (though more excusable at their respective asking prices). For instance, the X5 II and E17K both have a nice completely aluminium build, yet both also have an unsightly, uneven seam that runs the perimeter of the brushed rear panels. The X5 III is a large leap forward in terms of both build and finish. It builds upon the solid feel in the hand achieved by the second generation X5 but adds a much more fitting glass panel to the rear. There are no seams and the level of finish is almost equal to that of my Oppo HA-2, no small feat. Through the use of a uni-body construction, the X5 achieves similar feel in the hand to a flagship smartphone.
X5 II – X5 III
Physically, the X5 III is roughly identical to the X5 II in size but adopts an android based touch screen interface over the proprietary click wheel-based interface used before. Usage should be familiar to those who have experience with the higher end X7 since it employs the same internals and operating system.
But while the X5 II had a more rounded design, the 3rd iteration of Fiio’s iconic player instead boasts a much sharper, angular styling that is refined enough not to become abrasive in the hand but far more catching to the eye. Each corner is subtly rounded and softly chamfered both for ergonomics and aesthetics. The sandblasted finish on the sides of the device grant it with some traction in the hand and the glass back is certainly very eye catching. I would perhaps like to see a frosted glass back on the next model, ever since I lay my hands on the Sony Z5, I’ve been a huge fan, but the glossy back should remain clean due to Fiio’s inclusion of not one but two cases. I love the gunmetal colour scheme that Fiio have adopted, it’s industrial and mature, more so than previous devices.
Horizontal/Vertical Viewing Angles – Colour and Contrast Comparison @Max Brightness
From a glance, the first thing that pops out is the 4” IPS LCD panel up front. While the X5 III remains, at its core, a music player, the implementation of a touch based android interface requires an impressive display since it is such a visual based operating system. Luckily, Fiio’s choice of panel is quite good, perhaps not by today’s standards (as shown above), but it’s a reasonably bright and saturated panel that sports a sharp 800×480 resolution, a universe apart from the rather archaic panel employed on the X5 II. The capacitive touch screen is also sensitive, and navigating through the UI is mostly as response as any modern smart device. Tasks such as watching videos and even some casual gaming are all well served by this resolution and the screen was visible even under the harsh Australian summer sun, if barely. There is no ambient light sensor so you’ll have to manually adjust the brightness but Fiio were kind enough to leave the brightness slider in the notification quick settings for easy adjustments.
While purists may not embrace the move to Android, the X5 III does retain all of the controls of the X5 II, minus the scroll wheel. The layout has been updated to better fit the form factor and ergonomics of the device.
The illuminated power button sits on the top right just above two micro sd card slots. Each supports up to 256GB via Micro SDXC and had no trouble reading my 128gb Sandisk Extreme formatted via Exfat. The device also supports Fat32 and NTFS. At present, that means you could option an X5 III to contain almost 538GB of storage! (32GB internal, 26GB usable) I’m happy that Fiio have moved to using trays for the micro sd slots as opposed to the exposed spring loaded slots on the X5II. They better protect your valuable cards (and data) in addition to increasing the quality of the device, the exposed ports always look somewhat subpar.
All of the ports are located on the bottom of the player. From left to right, the X5 III sports a 3.5mm headphone output, a 2.5mm balanced output, a micro-usb charge/data port and a line/coax out port. All are nicely finished and lie flush with the player’s housing.
The left side of the player contains the playback controls. At the very top, opposite the power button is the play/pause button, beneath is a nice clicky digital volume wheel and just below are the track skip buttons. Fiio have added some ridging on the left side of the X5III to recess the volume wheel and prevent accidental changes (buttons can be disabled when the device is sleeping in setting). However not only is this design feature functional, it also enhances the aesthetics of the player, the sharply angled surfaces producing some visual interest. In addition, the two tone ridged aluminium volume wheel both looks and feels tremendously premium.
Ergonomically, the device is easy to use and generally intuitive. Most people will be familiar with android, and if not, the X5 III can be operated in music only mode. The dimensions are also well considered though the button placement could do with a little work. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to using larger, taller devices such as the iPod Touch 6g and HTC M8/10, but I always find myself accidentally pressing the skip track button when I pick up the device. In addition, since the play/pause button is directly opposite the power button, I often press both at the same time when trying to put the player to sleep, pausing my music. Since the top face of the player has no controls, perhaps it would be a good idea to move the power button to the top, and then move the track skip buttons to the right. After a bit of adjusting, I found myself making these errors less often, however it took conscious effort not to hit the skip track buttons in my usage. Otherwise, the buttons themselves are pronounced and clicky and the ports are all tight and hold connection reliably. Fiio also install a protector on the front and rear from factory to prevent scratches. Overall, the Fiio X5 III is a handsome, mature and refined player that vastly improves upon both the build and design of its predecessor.