iRiver H10 (20GB) review: iRiver H10 (20GB)

iRiver H10 (20GB)

Douglas Dixon and James Kim

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7 min read


iRiver H10 (20GB)

The Good

Sophisticated, compact design; solid sound quality and nice EQ options; excellent FM and voice recording; photo-friendly color screen; supports Windows Media DRM 10.

The Bad

Controls aren't as intuitive as those on the iPod; power adapter requires a USB dongle; line-in recording requires an optional cradle that's not available yet; no album art support; can't act as a USB host for PC-less transfer of photos; battery is not swappable, as with the 5GB and 6GB H10.

The Bottom Line

The H10 includes nearly every coveted feature, but navigating the player controls can be frustrating.
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 20GB iRiver H10 alongside the 20GB iPod.

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.

The USB 2.0-enabled iRiver 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 high-capacity player decked out with (almost) all the trimmings will be pleased with the iRiver H10. It supports MP3, protected WMA (including subscription-based music), JPEG, and text files and is 100 percent compatible with Windows Media Player (WMP) 10.0 and its autosyncing capabilities out of the box; the unit allows for one on-the-go playlist--known as a QuickList--too. Additionally, Audible.com support is coming soon, but the delays have been longer than expected, thanks to Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) software complications. 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, Rhapsody To Go, and Yahoo Music Unlimited.

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 1.8-inch screen are just a bit larger than a typical thumbnail image. Speaking of thumbnails, you won't be able to browse by thumbnails as you can on the iPod. And unfortunately, you can't use the touch strip to fly through photos; instead, you need to use the awkwardly placed Back and Forward controllers.

WMP 10.0 happily transfers your full-size photos to the player when you sync, but they look blocky on the small display and can take a while to load. It's better to manually optimize photos to a smaller resolution and file size for better performance. These are steps you don't need to take with the photo-friendly Apple iPod. Plus, there's no way to transfer photos to the device directly from a digital camera, a feature that competitors such as Gateway's MP3 Photo Jukebox and Cowon's iAudio X5 possess. And no video-out means you can't share the images on a TV. Thankfully, you can browse photos while you're listening to music, unlike on the H320.

Like the H320, the iRiver H10 is a capable recording device that dynamically displays the time recorded and time available. FM and voice recordings are easy to capture and sound excellent, especially at the highest MP3 bit-rate setting of 128Kbps. Unfortunately, the H10 can record line-in sources only if used in concert with an optional docking cradle--one that iRiver plans to release but wasn't available at the time of this writing.

The H10 is an MTP device designed to sync automatically through WMP 10.0 on Windows XP (required!). You can sync music and images directly though WMP, automatically updating any new music you have acquired or ripped, or manually by dragging individual tracks and playlists of tracks. However, downloading actual playlists to be listed on the H10 is a little tricky and is explained in the online FAQ. The device also mounts under My Computer but not as a fully accessible, removable drive; you can copy and delete music and photo files, and you must use this method to copy text files, but you can't perform other file operations.

We thought the iRiver H10 sounded great with nicer headphones. It doesn't get overly loud, but its 18mW output is good enough to drive big 'phones. With a 90dB signal-to-noise ratio, playback of files and recorded MP3 is clean and helped out a lot by the incredible selection of preset EQs. Once a track is playing, you can hit Select to view more than 30 preset EQ options, which include SRS Wow, Dance, Reggae, Folk, Bass, and custom EQ.

While even large photos load within a few seconds, we felt the processor was overworked at times. The universal clock icon for waiting appears regularly, although unexpectedly, when navigating through modes and options. Jumping between consecutive tracks can take several seconds. Scanning through music seems slow (and does not accelerate over time), which is especially painful for long classical tracks.

The company claims 16 hours of life from its battery, but CNET Labs was able to get a reasonable--but not great--14.9 hours. Transfer times over USB 2.0 were an impressive 4MB per second.


iRiver H10 (20GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 8
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