The 20GB iRiver H10
The 5GB iRiver H10 was the first microdrive player from iRiver to be widely available, and its success has prompted the release of an identical 6GB version, plus the miniature 1GB and the jumbo 20GB models (see the iRiver H10 family). When you're comparing the 20GB iRiver H10 to the original 5GB version, you're mostly just looking at the difference in size. The 20GB iRiver H10 outclasses most of the high-capacity competition in the features department, with a built-in FM tuner, a voice recorder, and a photo-friendly color screen. Plus, it's compatible with Janus--yes, it is PlaysForSure enabled--out of the box. However, its controls aren't as intuitive as they seem, and unlike the H320, which is the player that the H10 will replace, it can't record line-in audio without an optional cradle, which has yet to be released. The 20GB iRiver H10 is a bit larger than the original 5GB H10--4.0 by 2.4 by 0.8 inches and 5.8 ounces vs. 3.7 by 2.1 by 0.6 inches and 3.4 ounces--but it's only slightly thicker and actually lighter than the 20GB iPod. The player is available in four muted and elegant colors: Triple Platinum Silver, Remix Blue, Lounge Gray, and yes, Trance Red. The company is known for creating polished products that emphasize features and performance over style, but looking past the H10's chintzy buttons, this unit actually has little g-factor going for it, in addition to having Jenna Jameson and other porn stars vouching for it.
The bright 1.8-inch, square color LCD gives the iRiver H10 some presence, and the revamped iRiver interface has color-coded player modes that zip by when you use the touch strip. The main menu options include Music, FM Radio, Recordings (voice and line-in), Photo, Text, Browser (browse any type of file), and Settings. The primary music option uses the file ID3 tags to break down your library by artist, album, genre, title, and playlist, as opposed to the folder-based categorization seen in previous iRiver products. Each of these options also allows you to play all tracks in a specific folder. Onscreen, you'll get information such as the artist, the filename, battery life, play time, total play time, the file type, play mode, a progress meter, the current/total file number, and even a clock. There's a lot of info, but it's clear and easy to read. What we would like to see is support for album art, particularly since the H10 is so music store/service-friendly.
One thing that bothered us about the popular (but short-lived) H320 was its confusing controller interface, and iRiver has made the H10 much easier to control--however, it's not perfect. The primary controller strip is similar to that of the Creative Zen Micro, but it offers better menu handling and utilizes a different technology that we think is more tactile than the Zen Micro's. While you can quickly scroll through the menu with ease, there is no option to allow for selection by touch, as one might expect from a touch strip. Instead, you must use the Select and Back buttons flanking the strip. Generally, though, menu navigation is straightforward and intuitive.
Player controls line the iRiver H10's right side, and a power button and a microphone are situated on the left. Up top are the hold switch, as well as the headphone and smart jacks; a wired in-line remote is an option. Down below is a proprietary dock-connector port. Unlike the 5GB and 6GB H10s, the 20GB version has a nonremovable battery. This is a downer, since one of the niceties of the micro hard drive versions is the ability to swap the battery out with a fresh one.
As mentioned, it's easier to acclimate to the iRiver H10's touch strip than the Creative Zen Micro's. However, the device is very thin and smooth, and it can be a hassle transitioning from the touch strip to the controls on the side, unlike with the iPod Mini's stationary interface. You'll find yourself reaching for buttons a lot. It's a long stretch from the bottom of the strip all the way up to the Select button, and the buttons are flush on the front and not easy to feel. In fact, at times, the device needed to be used two-handed. Two more interface gripes: First, there's no Now Playing option, so it's difficult to get back to the main player screen. It turns out that pressing play/pause will always take you there. It's a good thing, too--without a dedicated volume control (our second gripe), it's necessary to return to this screen to turn down the volume with the touch strip.