By Colin Stoner 6/04/01
SonicBlue's latest Rio player is an upgrade to the 600 (64MB) model that offers more internal storage space (128MB and 384MB), higher sound quality and a rechargeable lithium ion battery with AC adapter. It also features a new companion to the Rio models, on on-board microphone for voice recording.
The Rio 800 we received is dubbed the "Extreme," as it featured an extreme amount of memory (384MB, only weighing 2.4 ounces), amongst the other goodies for SonicBlue's top of the line Rio player. As mentioned in the opening, the Rio 800 also features a rechargeable lithium ion battery and AC adapter, the first SonicBlue line to feature these great money saving features. The Rio 800 also includes: remote control, USB cord and Installation CD featuring RealJukebox and SoundJam software.
I personally, have limited experience with portable MP3 players, however I found the Rio 800 easier to install then some MP3 software players. The only reason I needed the Install CD was to pull up the driver for the USB connection to the 800. RealJukebox and SoundJam were both included with the player, but I have a Jukebox that can already transfer and delete songs on my Rio, Media Jukebox. All I needed to do from Media Jukebox was download a plug-in for the Rio 800 connection from J. River's website, then I was off. No restarting for the driver installation (restart not usually needed for a USB device) and no need to restart for a new program install, or even a program restart for installing a plug-in. First impression of the Rio 800 left a nice taste in my mouth (or was that my Mac and Cheese?).
Very easy to use controls as well. They are all centrally located on the 800 itself. There is a Record button for easy memos or the beloved "Note to self…" that could incriminate anyone. One other nice feature about the controls was that the buttons were not soft or bulky. They are sleek and do not protrude from the player, allowing them to last longer and take a little bit better beating then say a TV remote control or cordless phone.
The display of the Rio 800 is what could be seen as their trademark after the Rio 600's release. It contains the same oval display for the LCD screen near the top of the player, leaving a fitting design to match the funky aerodynamics of the player itself. There is however, one catch to the oval cut display screen: the LCD screen behind the oval cutout is a rectangle, leaving some text in the top left and bottom left of the display cut off. The upside to this is that the song title will scroll while it is played, so the oval cutout ends up not taking away any from the 800's sleek looks. The screen itself features song title/filename, file type, bitrate, song length, volume level, and track number. Confused? Try the display demo that SonicBlue has on their site.
I was very impressed with the sound quality from such a small player (only 2.4 ounces) and small headphones. The 800 does boast a slightly crisper sound quality than the 600 (signal-to-noise ratio of 90dB for the 800 and 95dB for the 600), and is on par with other big name portables as the Nomad II and the Sony Memory Stick.
The Rio 800 Extreme retails for $599, a large step up from the 128MB 800 model at $299, but the base model is all the average consumer should need. As far as ranking against it's main competitors, the 800 costs $100 fewer than both the Nomad II and Sony Memory Stick, two players which SonicBlue sees as it's main competition for the 800. SonicBlue also built the 800 with the future in mind, allowing firmware upgrades down the road to play new media formats (AAC/MP4, OGG, etc.) as to not make the 800 obsolete within it's first year of release.
Colin Stoner is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Colin is also the editor of Experience-Mp3.com.
Other MP3 Portable Reviews:
We Test Drive the Rio Volt MP3/CD player
We Test Drive the US Robotics SoundLink
We Test Drive the Creative Nomad Jukebox