The following review, to use the term loosely, is based on pseudo-real-world conditions; that is to say, conditions close to ideal.
The Zoom H1 was used during interviews pre-approved by the subjects in settings such as restaurants, pubs, a private office, and a jazz bar during a concert.
The most challenging field test ever confronted by my H1 involves secretly recording candid exchanges with taxi drivers.
This so-called Taxicab Field Test (TFT) has been undertaken while I was at the backseat to measure the machine’s ability to pick up the driver’s voice, which is usually drowned out by the radio and/or blocked by the seats.
To prompt taciturn cab drivers into speaking clearly (in between bouts of grunting, coughing, and indiscriminate spitting) their opinions were solicited regarding topics close to their hearts (traffic and oil prices and, understandably, women and sex).
Quality of TFT recordings are mixed, owing primarily to the difficulty of setting the H1 up without arousing suspicion while chewing the fat with the driver.
Which brings me to some very minor issues about the H1.
First, you had to take the H1 out of its custom-built case, which is harder than it sounds.
Although the case has buckles and straps that allow it to be attached to a belt, hung on the neck like a lanyard, and secured on a wrist through a strap, taking the gadget out requires three hands—one to hold the case and two to fiddle with the double zippers.
To avoid this trouble, try not to buy the case—which I did—because I couldn’t resist the headphones that came with it in a special package. (The headphones were sucky. Good thing the tripod that was also part of the package wasn’t. Except that if it was the tripod I was after, I could have gotten one locally at a price three times cheaper. Same sentiments regarding the headphones. But such is the fate of an online shopper.)
To protect the H1 from the bump and grind of the everyday, you can get one of those hard, plastic eyeglass cases that come in various colors. Besides being able to fit snugly in those cases, the H1 can also be quickly stored and retrieved in one snap, as is currently used by a journalist friend who also bought an H1.
Another minor setback is power consumption.
Certain supposedly defective units have power issues, draining batteries even when the units are not used at all. [See: battery issues]
Fortunately, the unit that I bought online—and brought by a friend home—didn’t have this kind of problem.
But even without this issue, the Zoom H1 is an energy vampire, sucking power off the batteries like an angsty friend during a boring party.
In my experience, the H1 can use up an Energizer Max battery in roughly six hours recording time, straight or staggered.
As a result, prior to and during a recording session, you need to check battery levels periodically.
To be on the safe side, always bring spare batteries. Replace the battery once the battery indicator icon begins to flash. If you don’t, you will certainly miss out on the talkfest, which has happened to me twice.
As an MP3 player, it is crude.
The Play, Fast Forward, and Rewind buttons are all on the right side, embedded in grooves.
As a result, users with stubby fingers such as myself will find it hard to press them, increasing chances to accidentally skip to either the beginning or the end of the file.
And if you want to find out how a file sounds like, you can use one ear to listen to the single speaker at the bottom. If you want to listen with both ears, you can either check into a convent or use earphones.
Better yet, you might want to plug the unit into the nearest USB outlet since the microSD card will be read as a storage device regardless of OS platform. You then can play the recording on the computer, OSX or Windoze.
You can also take out the microSD card itself and plug it into a card reader, which I now do because the cover of the microSD slot just fell off in the middle of writing this review.
But overall, I’m just quibbling.
The Zoom H1 is the best digital voice recorder I’ve ever used. And I say that as someone who has used a Sony and an Olympus digital voice recorder.
With the Zoom H1, you press one button to begin recording and you press the same button to stop. How complicated can that be? Not very.
Make sure you have enough batteries though.
From The Multimedia Dept. Here’s a sample recording of the Zoom H1 taken during a concert at a jazz bar in the wee hours of the morning. [See: Tuesdays with Noel at Skarlet's Kitchen] And here is a really crude video review of the H1. [See: Crude-O-Rama]