Many moons ago, the iRiver H120 was dubbed one of the first 'iPod killers', thanks to its petite form factor and a bevy of extra features. Today, its replacement, the 40GB H340 (£270), is consistently one of the first high-capacity MP3 players to be mentioned in the same breath as the iPod.
Thanks to a major interface overhaul that includes a photo-friendly colour screen, the feature-rich H340 is a legitimate choice for those who require lots of storage, multiple-file-format compatibility and extra features that the iPod lacks, such as recording and FM tuning. Still, the H340 has some weaknesses, including confusing navigation and slow photo loading that may discourage prospective buyers searching for another iPod killer.
Measuring 61 by 25 by 104mm and weighing 200g, the durable, black plastic-encased iRiver H340 is neither a design marvel nor a sleek iPod-like device. It's noticeably thick, not to mention heavier than it looks. (In the world of MP3 players, a few grams or millimetres can make a huge difference.) The overall look is utilitarian, although the colour screen does add some style points. We like to call the H340 the 'Soviet iPod'.
Instead of the scrollwheel or touch pad that we've recently become accustomed to, the H340 is operated by pressing a series of tactile buttons, which are clustered together underneath the 51mm (2-inch) TFT 260,000-color display. These buttons are clearly marked, but some have double functions, so a careful read of the informative user manual is a necessity.
The centre Navi button serves as the primary Select key, and the surrounding four buttons are navigation, volume or forward and reverse controls, depending on which screen you're on. Additionally, the Navi button serves as the Menu button when held down for a couple of seconds. It gets more confusing. To the left of the navigation controls are the on and off buttons, which also serve as play/pause and stop buttons. To the far right are the record and A-B loop buttons, which also serve as function and equaliser buttons, respectively -- again, when they're held down.
As confusing as that sounds, once you've used the H340 for about a week, all the controls become second nature, especially for those who grew up tinkering with computers. It's just not as out-of-the-box simple as the iPod. If this all sounds discouraging, just remember: the H340 does so much more than the iPod.
Holding down the Navi button opens the setup menu, which includes a deep set of tweakable options for General, Display, Timer, Control and other items. The function button will give you a choice of Music, Radio, Record, Text, Picture and Browser. The interface is well organised, with icons and graphics popping off the screen -- certainly a plus for the H340. For example, in Play mode, the screen cleanly and efficiently displays tons of info, including track number, a battery-progress bar, level meters and playback time, as well as track name, file type, bit rate, equaliser and sampling rate. Those who love info-packed interfaces will warm to the H340.
Moving back to the hardware, the top of the H340 features separate line-in and line-out ports as well as a headphone jack and a smart jack for the optional wired remote. You'll find a nice big microphone on the left side and a hold switch on the right. Underneath is a power port plus two data ports: a USB OTG (On The Go) for use with digital cameras or similar peripherals and a USB 2.0 port for data.
The H340 ships with a variety of accessories, including an AC adaptor, a USB cable, a line in/out cable, an external microphone (very nice), a decent protective carrying case and even a good pair of headphones. Still, larger and more powerful headphones are a requirement in our book.