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RCA H review: RCA H

The affordable 4GB and 6GB microdrive-based players have only one major notable feature: subscription compatibility.

4 min read

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While the RCA H116 isn't ugly, it lacks glossy high-tech appeal, and the absence of prominent branding gives this 2.7-ounce player a generic feel. It feels natural in the hand, and at its thinnest point, the device measures 3.5 by 2 by 0.5 inches. It's neither as skinny as a Nano, nor as small as a Creative Zen V Plus, but that doesn't detract from the overall user experience. As RCA reps have stated, the H100 series is "so small that [it] can hide behind a business card." While this is true, the device cannot hide under a business card. RCA reps have also confirmed that there is no difference between the H106 and H116 models; in fact, all three H series models are identical from the outside.

rca-h106-digital-player-hdd-6-gb-display-1-5.jpg
6.0

RCA H

The Good

Basic and affordable 4GB or 6GB player; compact and comfortable design; works with WMA subscription and Audible tracks; ships with basic FM transmitter; screen easily viewable; supports UMS for driver-less transfers.

The Bad

Monochrome screen; no extra features such as an FM tuner, recording capabilities, or photo or album art display; hard drive-based design not as reliable as flash-based equivalent; generic look and feel.

The Bottom Line

If you need an affordable medium-capacity subscription-ready player with no extra features, then the RCA H100 series looks like a safe bet.
RCA H100 series
On June 27, 2006, RCA introduced three new MP3 player models: the 4GB RCA H100 ($139) and the 6GB RCA H106 and H116 ($169). Available now, the players are a throwback to the basic color-free microdrive player of a couple of years ago, and they lack features such as an FM tuner, recording capabilities, and photo and video support. Still, the RCA H100 series is compatible with WMA subscriptions and Audible files, and though it's much bigger than an iPod Nano and lacks the pizzazz of a Creative Zen V Plus, those looking for an affordable medium-capacity player with no extra features whatsoever should check it out. This is our review of the 6GB RCA H116.

RCA H100 series
The 6GB RCA H116 next to the Cowon iAudio 6, a 4GB microdrive player with far more features and a higher list price.

The face of the dark gray device has a thick, glossy finish that attract mad prints and is outlined by a thin Rio Carbon-like chrome border. Underneath the square 1.5-inch display is the main controller and volume mechanism, a tactile wheel with minuscule raised bumps for traction. The wheel works well, and you select menu items by pressing the center play/pause button. The forward and back buttons line the right and left sides of the wheel, while the menu button sits nearby to the right. We assumed the buttons would be backlit, but again, as part of RCA's intention to keep costs down, they aren't.

The only item on either spine is a power button, while the headphone and standard mini USB jacks, as well as the hold switch, are located on top. There's also an opening for a lanyard, but we don't recommend such use, as this is a microdrive player that's susceptible to malfunctioning if knocked around. Along with the player, the package includes generic earbuds; a 2-foot USB cable; a basic FM transmitter (not included with the 4GB H100); a driver CD with Yahoo Music Engine; and promotional offers from Audible, eMusic, and Yahoo. The FM transmitter has a retractable cable and can be used with any audio device. On one of San Francisco's clearest frequencies (88.1kHz), we experienced a little static, but worse, the audio quality is muffled.

RCA H100 series
The RCA H116 with its bundled accessories: The FM transmitter doesn't ship with the 4GB H100.

The screen itself doesn't support photos or album art, but it's easy to read the white text against the black background, and it gets the job done. The main menu is simple, with options for music, audiobooks, and My Selections. Music selections are broken down by artists, albums, titles, and genres, and menu items don't speed up as you go, as with the iPod Click Wheel. The menu button takes you to one of three screens: Now Playing, wherever you left off while browsing, and the settings page. Settings include shuffle, repeat, DSP, and profile, as well as another screen where you can customize the menu options, adjust contrast and brightness, and set the player to MTP or UMS. Clicking and holding the play button during playback will add a song to the My Selections playlist, though you can't do the same for albums. The same action allows you to skip chapters within an audiobook.

One minor annoyance about the player is when you activate the volume via the scrollwheel, you'll have to press a button within a couple of seconds to get rid of the volume meter; you'll find yourself hitting buttons twice to get the desired results--or maybe we're just impatient. We've also noticed a consistent one- or two-second pause between or when selecting tracks. Blame that on the hard drive, which makes this player more susceptible to damage than a flash player such as the Creative Zen V Plus.

Audio quality is decent. The same tracks on our Samsung YP-Z5 were slightly crisper and punchier. On our Sony MDR-7506 phones, though, we could barely reach our preferred high volume of listening. The DSP settings include a very heavy Bass, as well as Pop, Rock, Jazz, Flat, and the five-band customizable Graphic. While the players are rated for a reasonable 16 hours of battery life, CNET Labs was able to muster only about 12.5 hours per charge in battery drain tests. Expect that figure to drop a little if you're playing subscription tracks. One note about recharging: You must use USB as there is no AC adapter included. In MTP mode, the player was easily recognized by Windows Media Player 11, and our MTV Urge subscription transfers over USB 2.0 were quick and painless.

Without subscription capabilities, the RCA H100 series is a blast from the past. It's easy to use and is priced for those who don't care about bells and whistles. But for those who are active and in the market for a flash-based player, we recommend the 6GB SanDisk Sansa e270. Though it costs twice as much as the RCA, its multitude of features is worth the price.