Many moons ago, the iRiver H120 was dubbed one of the first "iPod killers," thanks to its petite form factor and a bevy of extra features. Today, its replacement, the 40GB H340 ($440), is consistently one of the first high-capacity MP3 players to be mentioned in the same breath as the iPod. Thanks to a major interface overhaul that includes a photo-friendly color screen, the feature-rich H340 is a legitimate choice for those who require lots of storage, multiple-file-format compatibility, and extra features that the iPod lacks, such as recording and FM tuning. Still, the H340 has some weaknesses, including confusing navigation and slow photo loading that may discourage prospective buyers searching for another iPod killer.
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. Measuring 4 by 2.4 by 0.9 inches and weighing 6.4 ounces, the durable, black plastic-encased iRiver H340 is neither a design marvel nor a sleek iPod-like device. It's noticeably thick, not to mention heavier than it looks. (In the world of gadgets, a few ounces or fractions of inches make a difference.) The overall look is utilitarian although the color screen does add some style points. We like to call the H340 the "Soviet iPod."
Instead of the scrollwheel or touch pad that we've recently become accustomed to, the H340 is operated by pressing a series of tactile buttons, which are clustered together underneath the 2-inch TFT 260,000-color display. These buttons are clearly marked, but some have double functions, so a careful read of the informative user manual is a necessity.
The center Navi button serves as the primary Select key, and the surrounding four buttons are navigation, volume, or forward and reverse controls, depending on what screen you're on. Additionally, the Navi button serves as the Menu button when held down for a couple of seconds. It gets more confusing. To the left of the navigation controls are the on and off buttons, which also serve as play/pause and stop buttons. To the far right are the record and A-B loop buttons, which also serve as function and EQ buttons, respectively--again, when they're held down.
As confusing as that sounds, once you've used the H340 for about a week, all the controls become intuitive, especially for those who grew up tinkering with computers. It's just not as out-of-the-box simple as the iPod. If this all sounds discouraging, just remember: the H340 does so much more than the iPod.
Holding down the Navi button opens the setup menu, which includes a deep set of tweakable options for General, Display, Timer, Control, and other items. The function button will give you a choice of Music, Radio, Record, Text, Picture, and Browser. The interface is well organized, and icons and graphics pop off the screen--certainly a plus for the H340. For example, in Play mode, the screen cleanly and efficiently displays tons of info, including track number, a battery-progress bar, level meters, and playback time, as well as track name, file type, bit rate, EQ, and sampling rate. Those who love info-packed interfaces will warm to the H340.
Moving back to the hardware, the top of the H340 features separate line-in and line-out ports as well as a headphone jack and a smart jack for the optional wired remote. You'll find a nice big microphone on the left side and a hold switch on the right. Underneath is a power port plus two data ports: a USB 1.1 port best used for media and a USB 2.0 port for data.
The H340 ships with a variety of accessories, including an AC adapter, a USB cable, a line in/out cable, an external microphone (very nice), a decent protective carrying case, and even a good pair of headphones. Still, larger and more powerful headphones are a requirement in our book.If you're looking for a phat set of features, look no further than the iRiver H340 because it's loaded. The H340 can handle a variety of file formats, including MP3, WMA, protected WMA, OGG, and ASF audio files. It is also the first true MP3 player to be compatible with Microsoft's next-gen DRM (aka Janus), which allows it to play back WMA tracks "rented" from subscription-based music services such as Napster-to-Go and Musicmatch On Demand. We think subscription-services make a lot of sense for many people since you get to select from an ever-growing catalog of music, and with Windows Media Player's auto-yncing or Musicmatch On Demand's DJ feature, you can easily refresh 40GB worth of music.
But with the H340, you'll want to save some space for JPEG or BMP photos. The H340 is afforded the ability to display photos on its bright color screen. Unfortunately, this feature is more of a novelty than a useful tool, thanks to turtle-slow image loading (a 3MB file takes about 10 seconds to load) and lack of critical capabilities such as simultaneous photo and music playback and slide shows. iRiver claims that the H340's internal processor wasn't designed for multitasking as it is with the 5GB H10. At the very least, iRiver should implement an autocompress function, where Window Media Player optimizes photos for the H340 much the same way iTunes does for the iPod Photo. If you're in the market for an MP3 player with integrated photo viewing, there are far better choices, including both the aforementioned H10 and the iPod Photo, as well as the new crop of Samsung players coming out in 2005.
Still, if you're more audio-inclined, the H340 very rarely disappoints. A nicely implemented FM tuner and recorder (with 30 station presets and autoscanning), top-notch line-in recording with a variety of recording options (for example, MP3 bit rates as high as 320Kbps), and the best built-in microphone that we've experienced for voice recording make the H340 an audio geek's fantasy device. iRiver even throws in an external microphone that works well.
Minor features abound as well, including a text viewer and a decent search function that allows you to find a track within the maximum of 2,000 folders and 9,999 files that the system supports. In playback mode, quickly pressing the center Navi button opens up the music library, which can be browsed by file, artist, album, and genre, in a folder-tree style that iRiver users have become accustomed to.Overall, the iRiver H340 is one of the best-sounding MP3 players we've tested. Surprisingly, it has a relatively low signal-to-noise ratio of 90dB but comes armed with a delectable set of preset and user-defined EQs as well as impressive SRS Wow effects that take sound to the next level. This certainly beats the tar out of the iPod and its weak EQ. It's also a loud player that can sufficiently drive a good set of headphones. As mentioned earlier, line-in and voice recording yield excellent results, and, coupled with a decent, color recording interface (unlike some flash players with tiny monochrome screens), the H340 is a useful recording tool. The player's FM tuning is also one of the better performers we've heard.
As for the H340's processor, it takes the device a good 20 seconds to start up, and photos (which are typically at least 1MB in size) take a lifetime to load. In addition, the vivid color screen comes at a cost. That is, to get the 17.2 hours of battery life per charge, CNET Labs set the H340 to turn off its display after 5 seconds. Users can't passively view the display in this mode (unlike the iPod Photo), so, for instance, you'll need to hit a button to turn it on, then press another button to increase the volume. If you leave the display turned on, battery life takes a major hit.
The H340 is an ideal device for storing files, thanks to its MTP autosync capability (that is, transfers are optimized when using with Windows Media Player) and its impressive USB 2.0 transfer rate of 9.75MB per second.