The end of last year saw things get a little tasty in the digital audio player market. Creative, emboldened by the positive reception its little Zen Micro received in the press, declared war on Apple. The stated aim - to outsell the ubiquitous little white player using the ingenious strategy of throwing a whole lot of marketing money at the problem. It didn’t work of course, and Apple comfortably outsold Creative by at least two to one over the Christmas period.
iRiver clearly has the same aspirations as Creative, and hopes to do a Chelsea FC and leap to the top of the table, while the other big players slug it out. However, judging from the H10, it’s not going to happen that way, as while the new player has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, it fails to do a lot of the basic things needed to win over a crowd.
On paper at least, the H10 has a lot going for it. It's a very compact little audio player and though its measurements are slightly larger than that of the Pod mini, it's slightly lighter at 96.2g, and thinner than the Zen Micro. It's certainly more pocketable than my third generation 20GB iPod.
In the box is a transparent carry case that enables you to use all the controls, even with it on. It does detract from the look of the player though, with a slightly bizarre fetishist feel to the rubber. A cradle and a remote control are available as accessories, but they're not included in the box.
The 5GB capacity is 1GB greater than that of the iPod mini and equal to that of the Creative Zen Micro. Like the Zen, it bests the mini with extra features such as an in-built FM Tuner from which it can record. It also has the ability to record from a line-in and has a built-in microphone. You can adjust the level of compression to maximise recording space or raise the quality.
Where it outdoes both the iPod mini and the Zen Micro though, is with its colour display. This makes it easier to navigate and adds the ability to view photos in JPEG format. As for audio, the H10 can handle MP3 and DRM (Digital Rights Management) encoded WMA files. So while there’s inevitably no AAC support for iTunes Store files, it can play tracks downloaded from places such as Napster. It also supports Napster-to-Go. Ogg Vorbis fans will be disappointed though, as there’s no support for the high quality encoding format.
In terms of appearance the H10 proves that iRiver has come a long way with regards to design. While early iRiver players were hard to love for their looks, the recently reviewed N10 and now the H10 are undeniably decent looking devices. Taking a lead from the competition the H10 is available in multiple colours - platinum, blue, red and grey. The screen is 1.5in diagonal, which is somewhat small though it's the same size as the competition.
Of course, it wins out by being in colour and indeed the wallpapers for each of the categories look great. Moving between each of these is quick and easy using the touch slider that runs down the centre. This is responsive and easy to control. However, my first instinct was to tap it to select songs and I was disappointed to find that this didn’t work. Of course, some may not like this control method but it would have been good if iRiver had included it with the option to turn it off if not desired.
Instead, selecting tracks is done with the right button on the front, with the left one used for going back out of menus. There are also three buttons down the side used for play/pause, and skipping between and within songs or photos.