While the touch strip works well, one oddity I noticed straightaway was that once you reach the bottom of the list it doesn’t start over at the top. However, when you scroll through albums or playlists it does, which is a strange inconsistency.
The H10 is nevertheless easy to use thanks to the effective touch strip and button arrangement. However, there’s more to a player than just the hardware – the software is a vital part of the experience. The bundled software is iRiver Plus, which can be used as a media player, to encode CDs and to transfer tracks. This checked and detected an update online on first launch and downloaded and installed it. On first attempt it actually got stuck in a loop trying to do this, but I started the process from the beginning and all went smoothly. I then hooked up the H10 and the software player promptly detected a firmware update, which pleasingly went without a hitch.
The software enables you to build a library of tracks and transfer them to the player either automatically or manually. How the latter is actually done is not that clear at first but involves right clicking tracks from the library and selecting add to the sync list. I couldn’t see a button to activate the sync process so selected it from the menu instead. Tracks copied over this way can then be easily browsed via artist, album or genre, with information taken from the ID3 tags. Connection is via USB 2.0 so is pleasingly speedy. The software only enables you to encode to WMA, with no option for regular MP3.
Considering it reads ID3 tags I was therefore absolutely amazed to find that when browsing albums, the tracks can only be played in alphabetical order. Assuming I missed some option I browsed the online forums only to discover that this was a known issue. I didn’t know whether to be more surprised by the fact that iRiver had released the player in this state or the fact that most of those that had bought the player didn’t seem to mind.
What made it all the more disappointing was the fact that I’d mentioned this issue in person to an iRiver representative when seeing the player at a preview back in December. The individual had agreed with me that it was a flaw and that it would be corrected at launch. Clearly, this proved not to be the case. So if you’ve ever wanted to listen to Sgt. Pepper in alphabetical order, now’s your chance.
There are two workarounds, however. As well as using the software you can also drag and drop files on and off the player, which also means that the H10 is not constrained by the copy protection that iPod users are used to. However, tracks copied across this way don’t appear in the albums and artists database - instead you access them via the ‘Browser’ option, which presents a folder and sub-folder view. In this view, the ID3 tags are not displayed, but this at least means that the alphabetical order results in tracks appearing in the correct order.
The other way is to create a playlist of the album and then manually drag the tracks into the correct order, though this is an inconvenience. Again, tracks in the playlist aren’t displayed using ID3 tags.
Another disappointment is that the colour screen isn’t put to better use by displaying album art that is often embedded in ID3 tags. The iPod Photo will do this, but as with track number information the iRiver H10 chooses to ignore it.
The resolution on the screen isn’t stated by iRiver but it certainly isn’t that high. This means that while the colour screen is a nice touch images look quite grainy. For comparison we looked at an iPod Photo (review coming soon) and the quality of the images and the way they can be manipulated was far superior. Sure it’s no more than you would expect from a far more expensive device, but once you've seen it on the iPod, the colour screen on the H10 is shown up to be more of a gimmick that a must have feature.