The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 9:20 PM

Josiah wondered why someone might buy an iPod instead of the iRiver hp-120. Below I place the thoughts I wrote out as a comment on his blog, which, alas, will not post for some reason.

Firewire connectivity. It's hard to find a player with this, and as always, Firewire devices cost more. But, that “more” equates to faster download/upload speeds. Firewire 400, despite being burst-able “only to 400 MB/s” instead of 480 MB/s like USB Hi-Speed, can sustain much higher speeds, to the tune of 33-70% faster transfers. Since these little puppies are nice external storage mediums for any type of file, the Firewire 400 speed seems advantageous to me. Transferring songs is blazingly fast — an average of one second per song.

Elegant simplicity. This has always been Apple's “thing.” Look at the two players' fronts. The iRiver's controller protrudes from the front and looks rather counterintuitive from what I can see. The iPod's clickwheel is flush with the surface of the iPod so that it won't catch on anything and is extremely simple: slide your finger up (like on a touchpad) to move up, slide down to move down. Click on the side that has the function you want if you want to play, go to the menu, etc. I'd note what C|Net's James Kim said about the interface and control between the two players (note, the ihp-120 is a year older than the present iPod so the whole review is based on the 3G iPod). “We found the multidirectional joystick control on the front easy enough to use for navigating the deep menu structure, but compared to the Apple iPod's scrollwheel, it makes going through long lists of songs a tedious chore.” I'd also note that the iRiver is laden with buttons on the side, whereas the iPod only has three buttons/switches: the clickwheel, the center button and the hold switch on top (to disable the buttons when not in use).

Same goes for the software… no one wants to hassle with complicated software when your out and about and want to listen to music. The iPod software is the simplest I've seen, but still does everything you'll likely want to do. It has multiple On-The-Go playlists that you can create using only the iPod, you can rate songs while they are playing and then the shuffle function will play your favorites more frequently, you can play Audio Books (including some free ones) and much more. Simplicity doesn't mean it lacks miscellaneous features — it still has a place to read notes you've placed on the device, a calendar, contacts, three little games, a music game (where you try to identify short clips from your collection) and so on. Simplicity means everything “just works.” It even has touches like automatic pausing if you remove your headphones.

Accessories. Since the iPod outsells its competitors by about 3:1 (if not more) in the hard disk unit arena, if you want accessories, you'll have a lot easier time finding them with an iPod. Want a dock with speakers built into it? You can get one. Not satisfied with just any speakers? Get the iPod-exclusive Bose SoundDock. Want to store digital photos on your player during a long trip? Choose from adding a memory card reader or a USB port that will download photos straight from your camera. New cars (Minis and BMW's so far, but I expect more affordable fare in the future) now come with iPod support, new car stereos as well… Need a case? Choose from dozens of models that fit every need. With hp now support iPods, expect even more stuff to be available.

Software. Now this doesn't matter as much under GNU/Linux (although once CodeWeavers finishes its work on iTunes support it will)… the iPod/iTunes combination is far more elegant than any other I've seen. Auto-sync on docking (including, on Macs, auto-sync of contacts, calendar, etc.), easy organization tools, smart playlists that add music automatically based on select criteria, etc. As I understand it, the ihp-120 uses drag-and-drop manual uploading instead and requires you to manually run a playlist updater afterward if you want your selection menus to have your music in them.

Both iTunes and the iPod support Apple Lossless, which gives a completely lossless encoding that is 50% smaller than normal. Both support Apple Advanced Codec (AAC), the MPEG-4 based open standard format that produces file sizes dramatically smaller than Ogg that also sound better.

iPod is also the only player with a cross-platform music store for when you only want to buy one song (for instance, I bought the Michael W. Smith single “Healing Rain” two months before anyone not using iTMS could get it). iTMS music can go on five computers, be burnt in the same order 10 times (and burnt in different orders unlimited times) and go on unlimited iPods. At first I never thought I'd use iTMS, but over the last year and a half of its existence, I've found it useful numerous times. Will I buy a whole album through it? Not likely, but for individual tracks its great. As an aside, by purchasing an iPod your going with the only major player that does not work with Windows Media-based online music stores — yet, you are getting the only player that works with the world's most popular online music store. Therefore, it is a win-win situation: (1) the record labels cannot be content to work merely with Microsoft and its partners and (2) you aren't hurting yourself by choosing the iTMS compatible player, you are getting access to the online music store with the most tracks.

All this, plus a similar battery life as the iRiver (only more efficiently, since the AAC format requires less hard drive accesses, since the files are smaller — it also supports MP3), in the new 4G iPods (that's any iPod with a clickwheel). According to C|Net's tests, the same music player reviewer gave the iPod a 9 to iRiver's 8.7 and so on — despite the fact that the iRiver came out nearly a year before the 4G iPod and therefore should have had an easier time obtaining that “9.”

Aestitics. Sure, looks don't make a good player, but if your stuck around this thing all the time, its nice if you like the look. I've always been someone who appreciated simple, clean industrial design: the exact thing you get with the iPod.

Overall. I think it all comes down to what you plan to use it for. Some people will want a player with an FM tuner, on the other hand, if you are like me, the only radio you listen to (other than at Christmas) is AM talk radio — 50,000 watts of Rush Limbaugh, yeeeeaaa! —-so an FM tuner is just something else that can end up breaking on me. Others will want to be able to record sound, but I already have a PDA and a cell phone that do that (and Belkin makes a recording accessory for the iPod). On the other hand, the features I do want, such as an easy to use interface, sleek (and non-mechanical) control mechanism and iTMS support are available almost exclusively with the iPod.

Tags: Comp/Tech

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7 comments posted so far.

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

Earlier this year I went out to buy an iPod and came home with an iRiver. For $100 less than the same-size iPod, I got the FM tuner and voice recorder (two features I was prepared to spend extra for on the iPod) thrown in for free with no extra hardware.

The optical in/out on the iRiver and the ability to rip music directly to the device (I can connect my cd boombox to the iRiver and save the music to it). More importantly, the iRiver acts as a simple storage device. I don’t have to sync it with iTunes. I just copy the files directly.

The single biggest benefit is battery life. I get 18 to 20 hours use out of a single charge. My brother gets 4 to 6 on his iPod.

iPod’s does win in one area - the control mechanism. The scrollwheel is nice, both in operation and in its simplicity. For me, that was not enough to save an otherwise inferior product with a higher pricetag.

Posted by kevin - Dec 05, 2004 | 1:10 AM- Location: Milwaukie, OR

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

I love my iPod! Not only is it a great music player it comes in handy as an extra hard drive (and you don’t need iTunes to copy files back and forth). Didn’t want the other features but I did want the simplicity.

I also enjoy the iTunes store. I have bought complete ablums. Most of the stuff I buy is for my class so I just burn it onto a CD and take it to school!

Posted by Christopher - Dec 05, 2004 | 9:38 AM- Location: MO

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

Kevin: didn’t you get an open box, though? It looks to me that typically the iPod and iRiver are similar in pricing ($299 for the iPod 20 GB vs. $329 for the iRiver ihp-120 20 GB). The current iPods don’t get 18-20 hours, but they do get about the advertised 12 hours — the 4G iPods are a completely different beast than the 3G and lower, as I understand it.

As Christopher notes, you don’t need iTunes to copy files. It is a bit difficult to transfer music to the iPod without iTunes (or a replacement package under Linux, for example, which does exist), but even that can be done. Of course, since I use iTunes for my music, it is much more convenient to transfer using it.

As I said, I think it depends on the features you need. If you use an FM tuner and voice recorder, and don’t need the easy playlist auto-sync, memory card reader, firewire, AAC and iTMS support, etc., then something else is the way to go. Firewire, memory card reader support and AAC/iTMS support are all important to me. It just depends which features you need. I’ll look into one with a radio tuner when they combine the mp3 player with an XM portable or at least something with AM.

Just to be clear, I do not mean this to knock the iRiver, but simply to answer the question Josiah asked (and many people ask): why get a device with seemingly less features. The answer is that it doesn’t have less, it has different. I think the only other player with Firewire is the one from Sony, and it goes for $399 for a 20 GB, IIRC.

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Dec 05, 2004 | 4:24 PM- Location: MO

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

Thanks for all the thoughts and insight guys apprecite the comments as well.

Kevin, do you find the iRiver knob thingy on the front to get in the way? If I could get the hp-120 for $100 less I think I’d go that way.

Tim has done a great job talking up the iPod “Tim blogs 4 iPod”. All things being as they stand today (and assuming I had the funds) I’d get the iPod.

I’m also poking at the Neuros [ ]. It looks like a less expensive approach and more flexible, but feature set is reduced.

I like the idea of being able to record to the device. My understanding is that the iPod doesn’t allow this?


Posted by Josiah Ritchie - Dec 06, 2004 | 10:35 AM- Location: Lanham, MD

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

“Tim blogs 4 iPod” that sounds rather catchy. ;-) Glad to provide the thoughts.

Regarding recording, you can turn the iPod into a recording device. Take a look at the Griffin iTalk: or see a selection of Apple’s featured first and third party accessories at .

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Dec 07, 2004 | 12:08 AM- Location: MO

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

When I bought my iRiver, the 20GB iPod was still selling for $399. With the drop to $299 and the improved battery life, the decision gets more difficult. If I was buying one today, I might go with the iPod, though I do still like the FM tuner.

Posted by kevin - Dec 08, 2004 | 11:14 PM- Location: Milwaukie, OR

RE: The iPod vs. the iRiver ihp-120

Interesting debate . . . is anybody able to clarify whether I would be able to upload music that I already have in iTunes onto an iRiver ihp-120? I know that it works for the iPod but is the iRiver compatible with iTunes? Is the main problem that it takes much longer to ‘drag and drop’ the files with the iRiver than the equivalent process with the iPod? I really need to order one or t’other today, so let me know what you think!

Cheers, James

Posted by James Southall - Dec 16, 2004 | 6:55 PM- Location: Jersey, Channel Islands

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