We Test Drive the Rio 600

By Richard Menta

With the Rio 600, Diamond introduces a unique backpack system that it plans to carry over to its future lines starting with the upcoming Rio 800. The purpose of the backpack is to free the player from being slave to any one particular memory format, several which are fighting each other now for market dominance.

You already have a collection of Smart Media flash memory from your Rio 300? Get the Smart Media backpack to use them. Have several CompactFlash cards for your digital camera? Get that backpack. There will soon be a backpack using IBM's diminutive Microdrive, which comes in 340MB and 1GB flavors.


Diamond Rio 600: order the 32MB Rio at Amazon.

Add to this mix Sony's Memory stick, Iomega's PocketZip, and the MMC flash cards found on the tiny I-Jam player and you can see why there is risk in putting all your memory storage cards in one basket. Within a couple of years half of these formats will probably drop out. The logic of Rio is to stay above that fight by giving the user the ability to choose and change when appropriate.

The Hardware

The Rio 600 comes with 32MB of built in memory and connects to your PC via a USB cable. It lists for $169 which is very good for a late model USB unit. RCA is selling their year old parallel port Lyra for that much now. The USB cable is a proprietary, trident shaped plug that cleverly shares the same connector as the headphone jack. This keeps the unit from being cluttered with too many jacks.

The player uses a single AA battery that stows in the backpack that comes with the player. The Rio 600 is quite parsimonious with the power needs allowing the battery to go about 10-12 hours of playtime per cell. Good efficient design by the Rio folks.

The user can upgrade the bios on the Rio 600 through firmware updates available on the Rio site. As these upgrades give the Rio new capabilities and features, the first things we recommend doing when you get your unit is to update it immediately. As of this writing, the latest version is v. 1.15, which gave us extended play list capabilities for the unit.

Among the features on the unit is a sleep mode that the user can set in the Preferences menu on the player, a clock, and a calendar.

Getting Started - B

The latest version of the units transfer software, the RioPort Audio Manager, loaded without a hitch on our Windows 98 machine. We didn't have the same luck with our Windows NT machine at the office and for good reason. The Rio 600 does not support the NT operating system. This is a trend that is running in most of the new players coming out. Windows NT 4.0 and 95 don't offer the best support for USB and many of the manufacturers are choosing to not support them with Windows 2000 (really NT 5.0) now out.

Unfortunately, the instruction manual doesn't tell you this in the installation section so it wasn't until several attempts that we checked the printing on the CD itself to confirm what we already figured out at this point.

Once you have loaded the software we recommend everyone first do this: Open the File menu and select 'Search Hard Disk for Tracks'. This is an excellent feature that will search your entire system for digital music files and record them into the RioPort database.

The problem is RioPort Audio Manager forces you to transfer files to your player from this database rather than directly from your folders. At installation the software only displayed files from our main song folder. We a tizzy of a time trying to figure out how to access music on other folders until we ran across 'Search Hard Disk for Tracks'.

We specifically tell you this because nowhere is 'Search Hard Disk for Tracks' mentioned in the instruction manual. You have to figure it out for yourselves.

If you plan to use the RioPort Audio Manager to rip tunes from your CD's, then register online immediately. The software will only allow the user to rip 50 tunes until the registration process is completed. It is easiest to get this out of the way when you first start using your player. For an added charge the software can be upgraded online to write directly to a CDR/RW disk, a nice feature.

Selecting and transferring songs from the database was made a little more difficult by the fact that the database displays the id3 tag information on the list rather than the file name. If the id3 tags are not properly labeled or incomplete (and we found quite a few in our personal song list that weren't) the user will need to click on the edit button to display the file name.

Beyond the above, transferring files to the player happened quickly with little event.

To save battery power, the player offers a sleep mode that shuts down if it has been inactive for a time the user can select directly from the player in the Preferences menu under Power Saving.

Controls - B+

The controls on the Rio 600 are fine. The Rio 600 marks the return of the joypad disc control that was a such a prominent visual part of the original Rio 300. The advantage of the joypad is that it is easier to feel which control is which without having to pull the unit out of your pocket and looking at it. Our big thumbs had a little trouble with the small pad as we tended to press in between functions rather that directly to the left/right or up/down. Hitting the pad in the middle of two functions would sometimes pause when we wanted to jump to the next song or just the opposite. A little more feel to the pad might help here.

Display - A

Excellent. Along with the Rave MP line of players, the Rio 600 sets a new standard for a display with limited real estate to work with. The elliptical window glass serves to slightly magnify the screen, which clearly shows all the necessary information. Our favorite part is the start-up where the unit displays a wonderfully clear battery charge display that tell you exactly how much juice is left in the unit and how many hours of play time that translates to. Hopefully for consumers, the Rio's competitors will steal idea this for their own players.

Sound - A

Again, excellent. The Rio 600 has one of the loudest volume controls we have come across which is a good thing for some music files whose volume drops with the quality of recording. The player has 7 tone presets as well as a separate treble/bass control.

Conclusion

As the Rio lines third generation portable, the Rio 600's backpack system marks the evolution of these players with a genuine attempt to protect them from the quick obsolescence that face any electronic product in its formative years. Time will tell how well this strategy will work, but at $169 list we find the Rio 600 to be a fine and very competitively priced player.

The instruction manual can use a little improvement and we feel the RioPort Audio Manager makes you jump through a few too many hoops to download a song. Still, this player is solid and will offer a good bang for the buck, especially as the street price comes down over the next few months.

Final Score: A-

Other MP3 Portable Reviews:

We Test Drive the Rave Clik! Drive MP3 Portable ( Rave MP2300)
Test Driving the Sensory Science Rave MP2200
Sony Memory Stick Walkman
Test Driving the i2Go eGo
Test Driving the Diamond Rio PMP 500
Review: AVC Soul/D-Link
We Test Drive the Creative Nomad Jukebox

 

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