By Richard Menta- 01/14/02
With the success Creative has had with its Nomad Jukebox, you knew that the folks at SonicBlue wouldn't sit on the sidelines of what has become as significant market niche in the MP3 portable market. Shipping the end of February, they will release their first Jukebox portable, the 20GB Rio Riot. It's nice to finally see a jukebox product from Rio, though we are a little surprised at why it took this long.
The jukebox concept - sticking a laptop drive in a portable MP3player to offer several GBs of music storage - was invented with the Remote Solution's Personal Jukebox back in 1999 and was declared a milestone product in our review of the product on January 11, 2000. The same month, Creative announced its Nomad Jukebox, which shipped several months later and was reviewed by us on November 21, 2000.
The 20GB Rio Riot Jukebox can be ordered from Amazon
While the Personal Jukebox's initial sales start was modest (partly due to its original $800 price tag and limited distribution network), the Nomad Jukebox became a huge hit for Creative a year later, spending several months as Amazon's leader in MP3 sales. Both units were big and heavy, but they offered lots of music.
Since then we have seen the release of several other successful jukebox portables including the strong selling Archos Jukebox and most recently Apple's iPod. In a year when about 650,000 MP3 portables were sold, Apple sold 125,000 of them, an astonishing amount considering that the player did not reach stores until November 10th of 2001 and works only with Macs (software has been released by third party company's to make it work on Windows).
All this shows what the leader in MP3 player sales has been missing without a product in this category. Now they have one.
As we said, the Rio Riot comes with a 20 GB drive and includes such features as an FM tuner with presets, an extra large LCD screen, and lithium batteries. The latter offers about 10 hours of charge, a distinct improvement over both the Archos and Nomad Jukebox's whose NiMH batteries can only muster a four hour life before recharging is needed.
The Riot comes with a 16MB memory buffer offering up to 12 minutes of electronic skip protection. This is double that of the Nomad Jukebox's 8MB and eight times more than the Archos Jukebox's 2MB buffer. The Apple iPod offers 32MB of skip protection, the most in this class.
The Rio Riot plays both MP3 and WMA files and, like most Rio products, works on both PC and Mac. The latter is interesting considering the success Apple has had in the Mac market. The iPod is really the player to beat in the Mac market, with its tightened dimensions, diminished weight and speedy FireWire connection that can load song files 45 times faster than the USB connection used by the Riot.
The Apple iPod weighs in at 6.5oz (185 grams), far less than it's previous nearest competitor the Archos Jukebox at 10.2oz (290 grams). The Rio Riot comes in between the two at at 8.8oz (250 grams). Dimensions are 5 1/2" x 3 3/4" x 1 1/4" (the iPod's dimensions are 4.2" x 2.43" x 0.78").
The Riot should do well against the aging designs of the present Nomad and Archos Jukeboxes. Both players are still fine models, but the iPod shows what can be saved in weight and gained in battery service. Creative announced this week at CES a successor to the Nomad Jukebox due this spring called the Nomad 3, another 20GB model which will drop the present unit's 397 gram (.9 lb) weight by a third and add FireWire to the mix, a clear answer to the iPod's challenge. RCA has also announced a new jukebox portable as more manufacturers rush to this very profitable, but so far exclusive, niche.
The Rio Riot includes the new MoodLogic personal music management to handle file transfers and music cataloguing. The unit is also bundled with RealJukebox® and Apple's iTunes™ music management software also used by the iPod.
If the Riot is designed like previous Rio models (all which have been excellent) it should do very well in this market, especially with the Rio label stamped on it. The lucrative jukebox category of digital music portables is presently shared by only a few manufacturers, but it has a very strong field of competitors lead by the iPod (which very soon Apple may officially enter into the Windows market). The Riot sells for $399, the same price as the iPod but offering four times more memory for the price than the Apple's 5GB.
With all the success, more manufacturers are expected to enter the jukebox market soon, one that may eventually blur with the flash card portables as flash memory increases in capacity and decreases in price.
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