Friday, February 25, 2005

iRiver H10. OK, so...

Now I can't get any music to load onto it. Searched, other people having same problems. No response from iRiver on my initial queries too.

My overall impression is that as it is, the H10 is a C-minus player packing good looks and the colour screen to divert attention away from it's many fundamental flaws. The colour screen is also not that useful in the end, as photos come out in a pretty useless way on it, with no possibility of outputting to video either. If it were the same price or cheaper than the competing players, I could allow it some leeway... but it's got a premium price. It's also deficient in music navigation and cueing features even if the bugs were fixed.

Recommendation: Avoid for now, and keep an eye out for the Zen Micro Photo. I've made up my mind; mine's going back.

Edit: Or maybe not. Had a word with the guys at the store, they're OK with me keeping it for a while.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

So what of the NW-HD3?

It's been a while since I wrote about it, isn't it? Am I twiddling my thumbs? No. It's been in repair since... well, since the end of January, actually. Broken headphone jack, plus a couple of other problems.

So, the broadside came... (iPod Mini)

The updated iPod Mini was unveiled and as I suspected, it's definitely evolutionary. No OLED displays, no thought control, no tea making attachment... just a continuation of what works along with a very usefully bumped battery life (or so it seems).

I'm tempted, but I'm also tempted to stick with the H10 as an academic exercise to see how iRiver addresses the bug-ridden player.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

iRiver H10. Impressions after a day of use.

Why ship dud products containing improperly tested firmware out? That's what really makes me mad. What the techie-perceived advantage of 'regular firmware updates' masks is an inability to test products properly. Geeks think regular updates are great, but have they considered how many of those iRiver / Cowon 'feature updates' actually give you new features instead of fixing bugs that Apple, Sony and to a slightly lesser extent Creative seem to have mostly fixed before the products are shipped?

These aren't hugely-complex applications like Windows for example... Getting the basic functions right in the shipped product is not that hard if you know what you're doing.

Out of the 7 intermediate-to-major problems (unrelated to usability, but simply things which aren't working as they are supposed to be) encountered in my first hour with the iRiver (5 more than the Zen Micro, 6 more than the iPod Mini), 3 of them seems to have been cured by the firmware upgrade.

Still not enough to start writing in detail about it, but enough to start getting a feel of this thing. I've not been paying attention to audio quality, etc (although it seems fine to me, apart from a click-buzz when you're adjusting volume) but just using the player normally, listening to my stuff.

I'm just calling it as I experience it here, but the number of usability-impacting bugs on the H10 is probably the highest of any player I've had in the last two years. It's even higher than the (at that time) just-released Cowon iAudio M3, which I thought set an unbreakable record for second-firmware unresolved faults. These problems will undoubtedly be solved in time. Cowon at that time was releasing a new firmware version every couple of weeks or so if I'm not mistaken and some time after I sold the M3 I know most of the most glaring problems were solved. iRiver will probably do it a bit slower, but I'm sure for their sake the H10 will end up being a stable player. But the thing is, you (and I) don't have to stand for this lack of pre-release testing.

If you like the look of the H10, my advice at this point in time will be... don't buy it now unless you're prepared to suffer some irritating issues. Geeks used to 'working around' unstable things will probably have less problems with this, but to the consumer and people like me who like things just to work, it may be an irritation too far.

The question is, can iRiver get a stable firmware release before Apple and Creative release their competing (and most probably better-tested) broadsides? I await a response from iRiver.

Monday, February 21, 2005

iRiver H10. How useful is the photo viewer?

I'm having slightly more than the usual 'new player grief' with the iRiver H10, so I've not started on the audio comparisons yet. I hope to get support from iRiver soon and do some comparisons with a clean slate... currently, the player and the hardware/software interface has a slightly excessive number of fundamental bugs for me to start reviewing in anywhere near a favourable manner.

Instead, I've been putting some pictures on the H10 and seeing how viable it is as a portable photo album. Since the H10 does not seem to make particularly inspired or functional use of colour or animation in it's music and menu features (beyond menu backgrounds in colour which seem to be non-customisable), the photo album seems to be the best way to justify the functional advantages of using a colour screen.

Here's a comparison between the display on the H10 (left) and on the 2 1/2 year old Canon Digital Ixus V2, the camera with the smallest display I have (Right).

The picture is actually doing the iRiver a favour as the exposure to get the iRiver image 'true' required that I wash out the Canon slightly. I'm sure I can capture it better, but it's the best I can do now. It also has to be said that the difference with the naked eye is more acute. The question is, how useful is this, given the quality and that you can't zoom into the image? My answer would be "less than useful". It seems to be one of those ill-considered features for the sake of it, to please the geeks... something that iRiver seems to make a habit of. However, it could be that my screen is broken as text is distinctly fuzzy on the screen (in a first-generation colour mobile phone sort of way).

The H10 is an attractive player which I obtained in the understated blue. iRiver's design has matured considerably and this shows none of the bad-taste excess / lack of inspiration of the previous hard-disk players from the company. It is just a little thicker than the iPod Mini at some points along the player, while being thinner than the Creative Zen Micro. Like the iPod Mini, it does not spoil the lines of your suit as much as the Zen when living in your jacket pocket.

It's a very nice looking player.You may not be able to see it, but there's a subtle chrome trim on the edges of the touch panel and the display. The menu system at the root clearly shows what mode you're in.

Unlike the Zen Micro, the buttons aren't illuminated. Neither is the control strip.

The H10 reduces it's thickness despite offering replaceable batteries by making the battery part of the case.

Selecting Music brings up the usual options, and allows you to navigate through to a track listing...

Notice the alphabetical presentation of the tracks, even though the files are correctly tagged.

The H10 displays a good amount of information while it's playing.

The DLO Jam Jacket-style case (although it doesn't have screen protection) is a welcome bonus.

That's it for the moment. I'll write more when my issues have been addressed.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Return of the Qualia

Well, the 010 is going back for repair or replacement. I can't believe that these are supposed to sound like this. There's a very unnatural artifically enclosed sound to these phones, which is probably the result of uncontrolled resonance within the earcup. As a fellow Head-Fi member and I experimented and as some pointed out, limiting the highs controls this to a degree... but does not eliminate it. And 'making do with a fix' is not in my vocabulary for a $2,600 headphone. Aftermarket cables and equalizers to tame the trebles (in my case, later tried with the Behringer DEQ2496 EQ) aside, it just shouldn't sound like this "as is".

Let's hope I get one back that sounds less unnatural.