I've been recording some Ainu music and dance performances on the side. I needed a second mic unit, so I bought the Samson Zoom H4 to complement my current Edirol R-09. I was waiting for the H2, but its ship date seems to have been pushed back to late August. The H4 was ¥27620 or approximately $230 by mail order.
Here are my preliminary thoughts on the Zoom H4:
Size: The unit is much bigger than I thought, the H4 seems almost twice the size of the R-09. It seems needlessly large, as though they could have reduced it to half the length if they wanted to.
External Mics: The H4 seems to have excellent sound recording when using an external XLR mic such as my Sennheiser ME64. The preamps are very quiet. The H4 supplies true +48V phantom power (+24V selectable) to the mic. One thing that seems odd is that I haven't found how to make the unit record in mono if there is only one mic attached.
Internal mics: Preliminary tests suggest that the internal X-Y configuration condensers are quite sensitive and separation is quite good. However, the internal pre-amps have a considerably higher noise floor compared to my Sennheiser ME64 condenser mic when plugged into the external XLR jack of the H4. Also, I'm very surprised that the internal mics on the H4 don't have any type of shock mounting. This means that any button press or even the faint sound of your hand sliding on the unit body gets transmitted to the mics. I would have liked to have seen the internal mics at least a little more isolated from the case.
Recording Mode Selection: I like the easy one-button selection and display of the current recording type (MP3 / WAV), bitrate, and bit depth. I switch between using MP3 compressed formats and uncompressed WAV files depending on what I'm recording. This requires going through a menu structure on the R-09 but only one-click on the H4.
Levels / Attenuation: You can't change the sound levels / attenuation without going first to the input menu, selecting levels, and then clicking through a couple more items. All of these button clicks are transmitted to the internal mics and to your recording. I would've preferred a simple one-button level control as on the R-09.
Lack of peak meter: The R-09 has a separate peak LED that lights when the recording levels are too high and are clipping. While the H4 has level meters, they aren't always visible and it's not easy to tell when it is clipping.
Batteries: Battery life is about 4 hours with two alkaline AAs. The H4 does not officially support NiCad/NiMH rechargeable batteries. Exacerbating the lack of support for rechargeables, it does not have a battery level meter, so you can't tell if your batteries are good or half-finished. Also, the H4 can't turn itself off if you leave it on by mistake. The R-09 supports NiMH and alkalin, has a battery meter, and can turn itself off when unusued.
Accessories: The Zoom comes with a tripod adapter, wind shield, and thin case. The Edirol doesn't come with any of these. Unfortunately, the Zoom's tripod adapter has no shock mounting and since the internal mics are also not shock mounted, any vibration coming through the tripod mount will show up in the recording.