Ever since Apple’s mighty iPod hit the shelves, the competition has been running round like scalded cats designing MP3 players that might still be attractive to an ever-hungry music market. Cheaper machines with similar amounts of memory but maybe a few more gadgets have constituted the usual plan of attack, yet even this is no guarantee of success.
It’s perhaps for this reason that iRiver has gone the other way and worried less about the price (this unit is £50 more than the iPod) than about giving more added value and extra features.
The first thing that strikes you about the iRiver H320 is that it feels sturdy and smooth with an attractive jet black casing. Then – joy of joys – a 2-inch colour LCD flashes on at start-up and by use of the Navi and other controls, you can easily navigate round the various options. The H300 series includes the 20GB model reviewed here (which means you can store 5,000 songs) and a 40GB version, but unlike the similar iPod it has an impressive 16 hours of battery life from a 3-hour charge, as opposed to the iPod’s 12. You can also charge it up simply by attaching it to your PC.
The other seductive addition is an FM radio that can auto-scan available channels and fix them as presets all over the world. To sweeten the pudding further, you can even record radio programmes for playback later – especially good for chart rundowns, etc. The sound quality throughout is outstanding, making use of SRS WOW technology to produce excellent 3D and rich base sounds. And for once there’s a decent pair of headphones to go with the player, as well as five preset EQ settings.
It’s not just music you can store, for photos can also be transferred directly from digital cameras (thus bypassing the PC) using the USB 2.0 port and a host USB 2.0 cable. Image Viewer is used to watch the downloaded images and e-books and lyrics can be viewed using the Text Viewer software.
Not content with all these features, iRiver provides both a built-in microphone and a separate external microphone to do voice recordings, plus you can record an analogue signal from an external source.
In keeping with its progressive attitude, iRiver provides the facility for Firmware upgrades by connecting the MP3 player to your PC, through the USB connection. Although there’s no such thing as future-proofing in this business, at least the operating system should keep up with the times.
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