Following in the steps of the much-hyped (and deservedly so) 20GB H320, the 5GB H10 is the first microdrive player from iRiver to be widely available. Joining the microdrive mania later in the game, the iRiver H10 truly outclasses the competition in the features department, with a built-in FM tuner, a voice recorder, a photo-friendly color screen, and a removable battery. Plus, it's Janus compatible out of the box. However, its controls aren't as intuitive as they look, and battery life was disappointing.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. The iRiver H10 is supersleek at 3.7 by 2.1 by 0.6 inches and 3.4 ounces, and it feels right at home in the hand; it's just a pinch bigger than the iPod Mini. The player is available in four muted and elegant colors: Triple Platinum Silver, Remix Blue, Lounge Gray, and yes, Trance Red. iRiver 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 a little G-factor going for it, in addition to having Jenna Jameson and other porn stars vouching for it.
The bright 1.5-inch, square color LCD gives the H10 some presence, and the revamped iRiver interface has color-coded player modes that zip by when you use the touch strip. This primary controller is similar to that of the Creative Zen Micro, but iRiver assures us that the technology is different and better. That said, iRiver's strip is more tactile than the Zen Micro's and offers better menu handling. While you can quickly scroll through the menu with ease, there is no option to allow for selection by touch. Instead, you must use the Select and Back buttons flanking the strip. Generally, though, menu navigation is straightforward and intuitive.
The overall design is fluid and simple, with player controls lining the right side and a power button and microphone on the left. Up top are the hold switch and the headphone and "smart" jacks; a wired in-line remote is an option. Down below is a proprietary dock-connector port. You'll quickly notice that the H10's lithium-ion battery is replaceable and easy to remove, a good thing given the H10's unspectacular battery life.
Using the H10 is a cinch, and it's easier to acclimate to its 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 the iPod Mini's stationary interface. Certain buttons play secondary roles in different modes; for example, Select can open the EQ menu or start recording, and Play can start a photo slide show. But these are quickly learned, thanks to an excellent manual. Our main interface problems, initially, were twofold. 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. 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.
The USB 2.0-enabled H10 ships with decent Sennheiser earbuds, a USB cable, an AC adapter, software, and a snug white rubberized (and honestly, a bit ugly) protective carrying case with a belt clip. It's important to note that the USB cable is proprietary and that it incorporates the power port, so you'll need to carry it for recharging the H10--kind of a pain.Those looking for a compact, midcapacity player decked out with all the trimmings would be pleased with the iRiver H10. It plays back MP3, protected WMA, JPEG, and TXT files and is 100 percent compatible with Windows Media Player 10.0 and its autosyncing capabilities out of the box. Additionally, Audible.com support is coming soon. Unlike many competing products that are waiting indefinitely for their firmware updates, the H10 is already Janus compatible, meaning it's ready to host subscription-based downloads from services such as Napster To Go.
Feature-hungry portable fans will appreciate the nice FM tuner with 20 autoscannable presets as well as the easy-to-use voice recorder. Those looking for a color screen and, better yet, photo viewing, will also be pleased, although photos on the H10's 1.5-inch screen are just a tad larger than a typical thumbnail image. Like the iRiver H320, the H10 is a capable recording device that dynamically displays the time recorded and available. FM and voice recordings are easy to capture and sound excellent, especially at the highest MP3 bit-rate setting of 320Kbps. The H10 can record line-in sources but only if used in concert with the optional docking cradle. The $40 USB cradle includes line-in and -out ports and lets you charge another battery (also $40). Keep in mind that adding the useful dock increases the overall price of the H10 to nearly H320 levels.