Apple's IPod used to be the benchmark for portable MP3 players, but now everyone seems to be gunning for the IPod Mini. Joining competitors like the Rio Carbon and the Creative Zen Micro is IRiver's $280 H10. I tested a shipping model of the 5GB, color-screen player--and its versatility and quality won me over.
The highlight of the H10 is an attractive 1.5-inch display that, combined with an improved hardware-and-software interface, makes the player a joy to use. Navigating your music library is easy with the touch-sensitive slider control, and IRiver has wisely abandoned the oversimplified folder structure that it used on previous hard drive players. Now you can easily browse by artist, album, genre, or song title.
Music sounds good if you upgrade to a better set of headphones than the included earbuds. The player lets you add individual songs (but not albums or artists) to an on-the-go playlist called QuickList. That procedure proved a little tedious in my tests. I imagine that most people will prefer to create playlists on their PC and sync them to the device.
The H10 does more than play music: You can also listen to and record FM radio, record audio with a built-in microphone, display text files, and even view JPG photos. Browsing through photos is easy, but it's more of a novelty than a useful feature. Since the H10 lacks a video output, you can't display those images on a TV as you can with the IPod Photo; and if you want to move the photos to another PC, you'll have to carry around the proprietary USB and power connector.
The H10's battery is replaceable and rechargeable (IRiver offers an optional second battery for $40 more). The company rates the battery's run time between charges at about 12 hours.
Rounding out the package is an exceptionally functional case that protects the unit's elegant finish (it's available in silver, blue, red, and gray). The translucent, rubbery case has a great feel and fits snugly around the player while leaving the screen visible and all the player's controls accessible. Nice.
So how does the H10 match up to the IPod Mini? It's basically the same size, but offers an additional 1GB of storage. Its touch-sensitive controls aren't quite as slick as those on the Mini, but they're intuitive and pleasant to use.
Finally, the H10 has numerous features--including the radio, recorder, and color screen--that you just don't get with the Mini. If you think those additions are worth an extra $30, you should give the H10 a look.
Versatile MP3 player sports a friendly interface that should make it a stiff competitor to Apple's IPod Mini.
This story, "First Look: IRiver Scores with New MP3 Player " was originally published by PCWorld.