capsule review

RCA Lyra H106

At a Glance
  • RCA H106

    TechHive Rating

    The H106 delivers high audio quality and is low-priced, but the interface is annoying and its monochrome screen is small.

You know a portable audio player's interface needs work when three of four experienced users can't get it to play a song within a minute of picking it up. Beyond that dubious distinction, the most notable things about RCA's new 6GB hard-drive based Lyra H106 are its throwback monochrome screen, its bundled FM transmitter, and its somewhat low--but not low enough--price of $170 (as of 7/21/06).

When you pick up the H106, it's immediately clear the unit is no iPod killer. The silver-and-black unit feels solid, but looks chintzy. At 2 inches wide by 3.6 inches tall by half a??an inch thick, it's small but not tiny. On top there's a USB port, a headphone jack, and a sliding lock button. The power button resides on the right side of the unit.

It takes the unit a few seconds to boot, and then the 1.5-inch monochrome screen comes to life. I might commend RCA for bucking the trend toward power-draining color displays (and for the player having an impressive 18-hour battery life rating) if the monochrome screen bought you something like easier-to-read menus. But the H106's dim backlight and white-on-black text is hard to read, and the unit's highly reflective and smudge-prone surface doesn't help matters. The H106 lacks support for photo viewing, but that's probably a good thing.

For accessing the menus, the player has four buttons and a mechanical wheel on its front. At first I thought I had a defective unit because every time I spun the wheel and clicked what I thought was the appropriate button, I kept launching the same song. RCA includes only a rudimentary Quick Start guide (which lacks interface instructions), and while the company's Web site offers a link to an instruction book, that link didn't work when I tried it. I showed the unit to several other editors, and it wasn't until the fourth person handled it that we realized we were clicking the wrong buttons. Maybe I should blame Apple for training everyone to click the center button on the iPod?

Once I mastered the H106's counterintuitive button setup, I dove into the menus, where I found a mysterious item called Profile. The unit let me select Yes, and then it loaded a profile. But I still don't know what that means. Another extra: The H106 has the annoying default habit of organizing album tracks in alphabetical order instead of the order they appear on the album itself.

Moving tracks onto the unit proved to be the easiest part of the experience. The company includes a disc with Yahoo's usable Music Engine; I transferred files using my existing Rhapsody jukebox. The H106 supports Microsoft's PlaysForSure standard, so it should work with most online music stores (except Apple iTunes, of course). The device supports MP3, WMA, and Audible formats.

However, the H106 performed admirably in our audio quality tests, notching an overall score of 81 for a Very Good rating. In our frequency response and harmonic distortion tests, it earned the highest score of the players tested this month. In my informal tests, however, the maximum volume seemed a bit weak.

RCA includes a too-short, beige-colored USB cable and a pair of decent earbuds. The player has an FM tuner, but you can only save eight station presets, which isn't enough here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there's a station on just about every channel. The unit received several stations well enough for me to hear the music, but there was always a static hiss in the background.

RCA is clearly targeting the budget-minded set with its H106. But the unit isn't that inexpensive compared to other midcapacity hard-drive players on the market. Unless you've got a thing for annoying interfaces and tiny monochrome screens, skip the H106.

Tom Mainelli

This story, "RCA Lyra H106" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    The H106 delivers high audio quality and is low-priced, but the interface is annoying and its monochrome screen is small.

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