I work with videogame soundtracks and bought a used Zoom H4n to record ambiences and outdoor sounds in general. Mine one has a pretty nice plastic case, an AC adapter (but can run on two AA bateries as well) and an USB cable, and I've bought a separate 16gb SD card to use with it.
It has two condenser microphones, two extra inputs for additional mics (which can be phantom powered) or line DI/sources, and you can use all these 4 channels at once. It records wav files (up to 24bits and 96kHz) and mp3's. The usb cable is not only to transfer files to your computer, but can also make the unit work as a regular audio interface, nice resource.
Besides that, it has a few built-in effects (compressor, amp simulator, delay, etc) that are not good (you might wanna use them to plug your guitar and practice with a headphone... might) and a small speaker that is usefull to have a quick listen to a file and make sure that everything is working fine (of course, you can also do that with a headphone). The construction is robust and it looks like it could handle some hits and falls with no problems.
I don't have much experience with portable recorders, but I can say that the pre amps on the H4n are not as good as the ones from a regular audio interface in the same price range. But they are not awful either: you can get some usable sounds from the stock mics and some very usable sounds if you use a couple external ones. I usually end up always boosting a little top end and cutting a little around 200Hz, 300Hz from the files recorded with the H4n.
One thing I really like is that the stock mics can be twisted to open up the angle of the stereo XY recording, from 90° - good for stereo instrument recordings - until 120° - good for my ambiences because they sound large and fill up the stereo spectrum nicely. Being able to do it without any other mic is really handy.
I don't really like the little screen and think that navigating through the unit's functions could be easier. Anyways, you can still learn how to use it and get your work done.
Overall, even with its problems I think that the H4n is a good product, that does its job well (which for me is to record stuff out of the studio, but you can easily find other applications) without taking much of your money. If I had to buy another portable recorder I would probably look around for other models before just to make sure that there is something better around nowadays (I would trade the effects for better pre amps without thinking twice, for example), but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find anything as good and as practical as the H4n for this price.
I've been using it as a sound notebook since I bought it: I record everything when I play guitar or synth so that I can keep my ideas and improve them afterward.
I also record my rock band but it's more difficult to get a balance between instruments. It's a convenient product.
It's my first portable recorder and I'm very satisfied with it.
Things I like least: all the small gadgets I don't use (amp simulation, etc.). They sound digital but could become useful one day.
Based on my experience, I would buy it again. Before you decide to buy such a product, you have to know what you plan to do with it. It won't replace a computer with a good sound card to record every instrument separately with Sonar, for example... But you can record anything... for instance the sound of the sea. Afterward, you can mix the sound with pictures from of your camera. It's small so you can take it anywhere... It's a valuable tool for composers.
Don't hesitate to contact me if you need more information... Otherwise, you can read the user's manual on the web. A last comment: the integrated speaker sounds awful but the sound is great with a pair of headphones.
What I find particularly magical about the Zoom H4n is that it just works. I do not actually own the product, but I know a bunch of people with them because of their popularity, and man, do I want one. The Zoom H4n is a portable recorded with two very high quality condenser microphones built into them, and it has two inputs for line or XLR in the bottom. What I find particularly beautiful about this thing is the simple fact that it is so portable. No, you’re not getting the best sound with the thing, but it is still far better than lugging an entire setup around to record a couple of things like traffic or rain or anything else you can think of. In fact, I want one of these just because of the enormous capacity to record environmental sounds and its sheer convenience will ensure that an idea will never be missed again! To be fair, Zoom’s documentation and menu system are not the greatest things in the world, but you quickly learn to forgive that when you realize that this product is not designed to be particularly intuitive in its operation. All it is particularly designed to do is to get you hitting that big red button fast. And once that button is hit, you have captured everything you need for an idea, or if you even need to quickly plug in a couple of microphones to record something of higher quality really quickly, then this is a great tool. If you are not worried about actual sturdiness or sound quality, this product is frankly a whole load of overkill, but if you want something that can get your creative juices flowing and something that will be there with quality when you need it, the H4n is definitely for you!