Unboxing My Zoom Handy H1 Portable Recorder

Unboxing the Zoom Handy H1 Portable Digital Recorder When my Zoom Handy H1 arrived, we took photos of the unboxing and first use. Now (finally – this unboxing took place before I left for the 10-10-10 family reunion), I’m annotating the process, so you get a sense of what the Zoom Handy H1 is like. I’m very excited about this recorder, because it meets the essential requirements – a digital recorder with built-in stereo microphones and removable memory that’s capable of recording audio CD (and broadcast)-quality uncompressed WAV files. All for $99!

So, here we go with the unboxing of the Zoom Handy H1…

The front and back of the product box. No shrink wrap, just a little plastic seal sticker on it.

The Zoom Handy H1's box, front and back

By the way, we ordered the Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder from Amazon and it arrived a day later—sent from a Los Angeles based Amazon Marketplace partner. Shockingly fast, especially for a popular item that’s been backordered. (Now, more are in stock. The affiliate link goes straight to Amazon.com)

Aaaand, now that the box is open, the first glimpse of the goodies inside.

The Zoom Handy H1 Recorder comes out of the box

The Zoom Handy H1 comes with the essentials, so you’re not lacking for a memory card or battery, and you can get started right away.

The Zoom Handy H1 uses a single AA battery, which is supplied. It also uses a micro-SD card -- the same kind that's used in cel phones. Here is the Zoom Handy H1 portable recorder, the included AA battery and the case with micro-SD card (and adapter), along with a shiny quarter, for size comparison.

One thing that is not included is a pair of earbud headphones (standard with recorders that cost more than this one). I’ve got extra headphones on hand, so it’s not a problem for me. If you get this recorder, be sure to get a set of headphones to go with it. Seriously.

Now that we’ve seen what’s what, it’s time to start putting the power and storage into the recorder and take it for a ride.

Installing The Battery and Memory Card

After opening the back of the recorder battery compartment, slip the battery right in. I insert the battery into the compartment on the back side of the Zoom Handy H1 recorder. The battery cover comes completely off the recorder, so don’t let it get too far away! The supplied battery is a standard alkaline type, but you can also use a rechargeable NiMH (nickel metal hydride) if you choose.

Next, it’s time to insert the supplied 2-gigabyte micro SD card into the recorder. A 2GB card will allow you to store over 3 hours of recordings in uncompressed stereo-WAV format.

Opening the compartment where the Micro-SD card goes. Here, I open the door to the memory card compartment. The rigid plastic cover is hinged to the Zoom Handy H1 with a semi-flexible stub of plastic. It’s an improvement over the sister Zoom Handy H2’s rigid door to access its removable memory (my H2’s door broke one of the hinge-knobs). Still, I recommend treating the Zoom H1’s memory compartment door with tender respect.

That micro SD card—the same size as the memory cards you can use with many cel phones—is small!! (The small size is an excellent argument for using a higher-capacity memory card; if you have one higher capacity card, you won’t be as apt to lose it as if you have multiple micro SD cards floating around.)

When I inserted the micro-SD card into the Zoom H1’s memory card slot, I noticed that if I angled the card so it went slightly uphill toward the slot, the card caught at something inside and just above the memory card slot hole. No panic, I just removed the card, made sure it was perfectly flat, and it went in fine. A final push on the card locked it in place in the memory card slot, and I shut the door.

The Micro SD card is small! When slipping it into the recorder, be sure that you hold the card flat as it goes in. Then with a final push, it sits firmly inside the Zoom Handy H1 recorder.

All rightie then! Power and memory are now installed. Now for a check of the directions to see how things work.

The Zoom Handy H1 User Guide

The Zoom Handy H1 Recorder's manual is a single sheet of paper map-folded and marked by subjects so you can easily navigate to the location on the menu. The instructions for the Zoom Handy H1 portable digital recorder all fit onto a single piece of paper. It’s cleverly folded like a map; at each fold, the page tells what topic discussed in that fold/page.

When unfolded, one side of the sheet has step-by-step operation instructions. 

Here is the Zoom Handy H1 recorder next to the unfolded user guide. The front part is the how-to instruction, and the back side of the sheet is the reference.  The other side of the instruction sheet is a reference guide. The reference has diagrams of all sides of the recorder, and describes what each little doodad does.

All the controls for the recorder are switches on the outside of the unit—this is a different approach than other recorders, where settings (for instance, what kind of audio file do you want to create—WAV or MP3—which is selected by software/firmware switches you control by using buttons and the little readout window.)

The documentation is very well executed, a successful example of “less is more.” They’ve seen to the essentials and don’t bog you down with too much inessential information.

Powering it up for the first time

The power button and the hold button (to lock the Zoom Handy H1 Recorder OFF or ON) use the same control. To power it on, pull the button toward the bottom of the unit. To power up the Zoom Handy H1 recorder, slide the power/lock button toward the bottom of the recorder until it powers on.

(The lock holds the recorder in either ON or OFF position so that you cannot accidentally change its state by just bumping the recorder.)

When the recorder first powers up, the date reads 01/01/10. Pressing that red Record button does nothing. Not a thing. Huh? Time to refer to the instructions.

Once the Zoom Handy H1 is powered on, the display appears. Before you can create any recordings, you need to set the date and time. Aha! The instructions solve the mystery—and this is why the first part of the instructions describe how to set the date and time on the recorder.

The recorder will not work until you set the date and time. That’s an example of good long-term thinking, since the Zoom Handy H1’s internal clock is responsible for assigning the date and time of the file. If this essential step is overlooked, it leads to later confusion (something I’ve seen when I’ve assisted someone else find and display fotos on a digital camera: “Hey, how come I can’t find the pictures I took the other day?” If the camera thinks you took them in 1970, they won’t show up as your recent the-other-day photos.) I applaud Zoom for making the date and time setting essential.

Setting the date on the Zoom Handy H1 Portable Recorder. Notice the orange light in the display window Once I set the date and time, the recorder’s powered-on state changes to ready-to-record. What does ready-to-record mean? The mics are live, and the level meters take a reading of the sound levels that go into the microphone.

I plugged in my headphones while the power was just ON, and I heard sound coming through the microphones. At this point, I could adjust the recording level settings—increase or decrease the levels, or flip a switch to auto levels.

The recorder, powered on and with date and time set, is ready to begin recording.

Press Once to Record

Once the date is set, when the unit is on it's in perpetual record preview mode (you can hear audio preview through the headphones). Press the red button, and recording commences. Notice the red status light just below the built-in microphones. The light tells you the unit is recording. I began recording by pressing the red Record button. Press to begin. Simple. Basic.

After using other recorders (including and especially the older sister Zoom Handy H2) where I need to press twice to begin recording, I much prefer the press-once-to record way. (I’ve made mistakes when using the press-twice-to-record recorders)

Make it easy, make it straightforward. Make it usable. That amounts to making a successful recording. Yes! Finally!

Once recording begins, the red light just below the mics lights up, indicating that the Zoom Handy H1 is recording. In addition, the readout window shows the time-count counting up, showing how much time has elapsed in the current recording.

To stop recording, press the record button again.

The Case, and Handling Noise

The Zoom Handy H1 recorder’s case is plastic. The arching rings that surround (and protect) the two built-in microphones and the plastic case itself will add handling noise, if your fingers are restless while holding the recorder while it’s recording.

Remember my earlier comment about using headphones to preview your recording? That is essential for discovering—before it’s too late—the best way to handle your Zoom Handy H1 recorder so that you hear what you want to hear, and avoid ruining your recording by absent-mindedly over-handling the recorder.

Avoid handling noise. How about setting the recorder down? Sure thing! There are four little nubs on the back side (opposite the readout display), so you can rest the recorder and point the microphones toward the person speaking. Or, if you stand it up on end, so that the microphones are at the top of the recorder, four plastic nubs on the bottom of the recorder will support it in a standing position. Sweet.

There’s a tripod screw on the back side—the Zoom Handy H1 Accessory Kit (which includes case, wall-socket power supply, windscreen, and tripod) is on backorder, so I don’t yet know how the small portable tripod works with it. But I have tried a different tripod—the Joby Gorillapod—and there’s no way to tighten the screw enough to make the recorder sit firmly on the tripod mount.

Less Is More (at last!)

I’ve mentioned less is more and the way that the makers of this little recorder have gotten so many essential things right. Less is more, and the Zoom Handy H1 has been pared down to essentials.

They got things right that were frustrating or irritating in previous Zoom Handy models (the H2). In addition to the memory card door, and mistake-prone press-twice to begin recording, they made the H1 zippier. 

The Zoom Handy H1’s start-up time is much shorter than the Zoom Handy H2 (30 seconds, which can seem like forever!) This recorder’s start up time depends on the size of the memory card installed—the 2GB card is zippy. I have since installed an 8GB card in my Zoom Handy H1. The startup time is longer (but still shorter than 30 seconds). The recording level readout acts as a vertical progress bar, telling you how soon it will be ready to go.

2010: The Year that Portable Recorders Dropped Below $100

And did I mention that the Zoom Handy H1 is just 99 bucks?

99 bucks! Seriously, $99.

It’s a miracle compared to what I saw when I first started following the portable digital recorders. The first one that was available (from Edirol, back in 2003 or 2004, and no longer being sold) cost over $400. That was too much for me.

What a difference most of a decade makes!

Now there are so many portable digital recorders on the market. There are offerings from all the major portable audio electronics players. And some minor players, too. They range in street price from $400 to (wheee!!) $99.

Zoom (and Samson, its exclusive distributor in the United States) broke the $100 barrier. (The Zoom Handy H1 is the fourth recorder offering from Zoom/Samson. The fourth. They’ve had three previous recorders to get it right)

For 99 bucks, you don’t get a set of earbuds, but you do get the essentials—full resolution audio-CD stereo quality sound. Built-in stereo mics. One-touch recording. It’s a stunning achievement. It’s out of the box. It sounds good! And it’s available now.

UPDATE: Later, I got the Accessory Kit for the Zoom Handy H1. Here are some photos of it:

Contents of the Zoom Handy H1 Accessory Kit (available separately). I highly recommend getting this.

The power adapter is based on a USB cable. The cable supplied is approximately 3 feet (~1 meter) long. If you have a longer USB cable, you may want to use it to plug into an outlet located farther away from where you wish to place the Zoom Handy H1 Recorder. Here is a detail view of the Zoom Handy H1 USB connections. (Again, if you have a spare USB cable with a longer cable that uses these connections, keep it close by your Zoom Handy H1 when you create a recording.) The power adapter uses a USB cable. You can remove the cable from the wall-outlet. The USB cable that comes in the Accessory Kit is only 36-inches long (~1 meter). If you have a spare USB cable that’s longer than the one supplied, bring it with you when you create a recording. You’ll be able to set up the Zoom Handy H1 recorder further away from a wall electrical outlet.

Here is a detail view of the USB cable connectors for the power adapter for the Zoom Handy H1.

Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder

Zoom APH-1 Handy Recorder Accessory Package

8GB MicroSD Card (SanDisk)

No one paid me to write about this product. If you purchase it through my affiliate link, you support my ongoing research into the tools and techniques of capturing family stories in digital audio formats.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 24, 2010 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
16 CommentsPermalink

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Susan, this piece of equipment is a doozy in real life! Cute to look at, easy to use, fabulous fidelity—who could ask for more?

Jane Neff Rollins  on 06/13  at  10:51 AM

Thanks so much for this review. Sounds like a great product! I will definitely keep it in mind if/when I find someone to interview grin

Ginger Smith  on 06/13  at  12:52 PM

Excellent review!  I just received my H1 and wasn’t sure how to install the micro SD chip.  The H1 Quick Start Guide has no photos, but you do.  And your other comments were helpful as well. 

Surprisingly, as flimsy as this little guy feels, I wasn’t expecting the fabulous sound quality the unit produces.  (I had to use my own headset to find out, because the HP 03 headphones that came with the accessory kit only produced sound on one side!) 

Very helpful, Susan. I appreciate the time you spent producing it.

Patrick Mountain  on 09/26  at  03:47 PM

I cant for the life of me get this micro sd card to fit. Help!

Justin  on 11/08  at  04:23 AM

Justin, you getting caught up by that weird angle thing? Be sure you insert it absolutely. straight. on. Any upward angle and it wants to go into that spot above the micro SD port. Good luck!

Susan A. Kitchens  on 11/08  at  09:18 AM

Thanks very much for this.  I had doubts about inserting the SD card (no instructions given), the website isn’t helpful on that - and my first Google hit comes up with the goods.

I’m now ready to upgrade the software - a potential hazard there but we’ll see! then to get going using it with a HD video camera.

How I could have done with a recorder like this in all the years I worked as a journalist - tapes and min discs were no real solution.

Now all we need is software that can transcribe the recordings - guess that’s still a few years off despite SIRI, Nuance and other advanced dictation and voice control packages.

chris bazlinton  on 01/04  at  03:02 AM

I bought the H1 handy recorder and used your help to get started. The one thing that I need and is not there is how to connect it to the computer and make a CD from the recorder. I can only get it to play the music when it is hooked to the computer. How do I get it to pull it from the card and save it in my computer so I can burn CD’s?

Thanks if you can help.

Thane  on 03/12  at  11:08 AM

Hi, Thane… Glad you found the info here at Family Oral History Using Digital Tools helpful.

Long story short (This would make a good blog post, but I’m not going to be able to get to it immediately)

The instructions I’m going to give you are for an updated version of the Zoom Handy H1 firmware.

1. Plug the supplied USB cable into the Zoom Handy and your computer.

2.  [New firmware] You’ll see two alternating messages in the little window: Audio In and USB. When “USB” appears, press the red record button to select that mode. (If you haven’t upgraded to the latest firmware, I think at this point the device will start up in USB mode.

3. After a bit, the disk will appear in your computer’s operating system (I’m on a Mac, so I’ll say Finder. Your platform may vary. But it’s the same as when you insert any portable USB drive.

4. Copy the audio files from the Zoom H1’s disk drive to your computer.

5. Adapt, as best you can, the instructions from this post—From Digital Audio Recording to Audio CD: Part 3 - iTunes and CD burning. You have a different starting place, a file named ZOOM0001.WAV. But the basic instructions are the same.

The max length for an audio CD is 75 minutes or so—650 MB (tho if you have the 80 minute CD blanks, you can go higher). If your audio interview is longer than that length, you’ll need to break your audio into separate sections, each of which will fit onto a CD.
Good luck! Let me know how it works.


Susan A. Kitchens  on 03/17  at  12:18 AM

hello Susan .. your instructions.. are Way better than the website or anywhere else .. thankyou . for your step by step.. process.. Judy

Judy  on 04/07  at  01:53 AM


Glad to help! (It’s what this whole site is about). Gotta question, tho. Was it the main body of steps and images that were helpful, or the previous step-by-step comment that you found helpful?


Susan A. Kitchens  on 04/07  at  04:00 PM

  You saved me by showing how the cover is removed to insert the memory card.  They sort of forgot to explain that in the instructions…Thank you!
David L.

David Langsather  on 08/06  at  04:32 PM

Question about the power supply. It looks to be a pretty standard setup, do you think an iphone wall plug-in power supply paired with the proper USB chord would work just the same? The power supply is the only reason I would purchase the accessory pack at this point so I’m curious if I can make do without it. Thanks.

Clint  on 09/03  at  08:11 AM

Thank you very much for posting these instructions - they were very useful!

Penny  on 09/19  at  11:33 AM

David — Yes, that little bit is tricky, so I’m glad I could help.

Clint — Sorry for the delay getting back to you. I just tested it, and yes, it does work. Excellent question!! As long as you have that standard USB cable with the little connector on the one end that fits in the Zoom, you’ll be good to go.

Penny — Glad they were helpful for you!


Susan A. Kitchens  on 09/29  at  03:20 PM

I just bought this nice little recorder. I tried it, and it worked, but the level was low when I listened to the file on my computer. Should the level be over 50 in ordinary face to face conditions?
Another question: there was a micro adapter in the box… May I ask what it is for? I first (to my shame) tried to fit in in a slot… I didn’t find of course!

Thank you


Jean LE DU  on 09/15  at  08:51 AM

Hi Susan,

Thanks so much for the very useful information!

Wishing you a peaceful and prosperous 2015.


Devin  on 03/28  at  10:55 AM

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