Rio Carbon 5GB MP3 Player


Wherein the iPod Mini suffers a mortal wound

Month Reviewed: January 2005
Verdict: 9 Kick Ass

You’ve got to hand it to Apple—the iPod family of MP3 players is so iconic that every new MP3 player is immediately challenged with the same review cliché: “Is it an iPod killer?” The Rio Carbon is not, but paradoxically, it’s a superior device.

The Rio Carbon uses Seagate’s miniature 5GB drive, putting it a gigabyte over the capacity of the iPod Mini. Even better, the openness of the Carbon makes the iPod Mini look positively uptight. You don’t need proprietary management software to load tracks onto it (although software is included for creating playlists). Instead, it shows up as a removable hard drive in Windows Explorer, and from there you’re free to transfer music and data files onto the player. Tracks within folders—even folders several levels deep—are also recognized. The sound is delectably vivid, and can be further shaped with the five-band graphic equalizer the iPod Mini lacks.

The display is as crisp and titillating as the dark-red backlit buttons and the curvaceous shape (which is more comfortable to hold and to pocket than the iPod Mini). We can even forgive the lack of a Hold button because not once during our abusive go-round was a button accidentally pressed. Best of all, the battery life absolutely crushes the iPod Mini at more than 19 hours on a single charge at 75 percent volume!

True to Maximum PC’s perfection-seeking character, we have quibbles. The carrying case is awful; it prevents us from operating the player, and removing it from the case is an awkward chore. Audio is disabled during fast-forward, and there’s no fast-advance equivalent to the iPod Mini that allows you to quickly jump to any point in the track. Furthermore, we’re flummoxed by the absence of OGG or FLAC support, both of which are present in the 20GB Rio Karma. (The player does support the Audible audiobook format, and can bookmark your place in these tracks.) We also would have liked to see an on-the-fly playlist function comparable to the one in the iPod Mini.

The Rio Carbon isn’t an “iPod killer” because it won’t seduce those who prefer the Apple convention of restricting choice in favor of “ease of use.” Instead, it delivers the do-it-your-way music management system and broader format compatibility that PC users expect. It’s got the right attitude, and the right hardware. Apple could learn a thing or two from this media player. --Logan Decker

+ Santa’s reindeer: Convenient, intelligent music and data file management. Looks sweet.

- Courtney Love’s career: No OGG or FLAC support. Ridiculous carrying case.

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