Rio unveils new MP3 players

Rio has unveiled a handful of new portable digital audio players, one of them featuring a new, lightweight type of storage that promises to keep such devices shrinking.

The Rio Nitrus is among the first to feature the new Cornice technology, a small storage device thinner than a flash memory card, and priced at about half the cost of the similar IBM Corp. Microdrive. However, it currently has a 1.5GB limit on data.

"I doubt many will believe you can get this kind of capacity in a device this small and light," says Rob Enderle, principal with Enderle Research. Thompson and iRiver are also developing music players using the same storage technology.

"That's the class of product that's going to put the existing high edition flash players at risk," Enderle adds. "It has similar or better battery life, and a much lower carry weight."

Rio's other new players are the Rio Karma, Rio Cali, Rio Chiba, and Rio Fuse. Both the Cali and Chiba are available in two versions, with different memory capacities. All are scheduled to ship in August.

Nitrus highlights

Rio representatives describe the Nitrus as providing storage that is a cross between a hard disk and flash storage. The US$299 player is about the size of a credit card, and roughly one-half inch thick, tapered at the bottom so it fits easily into a pocket. It has a USB 2.0 connection for easy data transfer with a PC.

It can store 25 hours of music, which is more than 375 songs, say Rio representatives. Rio says the built-in Lithium ion battery can run for 16 hours between charges.

"The most impressive product is the Rio Nitrus," Enderle says, adding he expects the Nitrus will give Apple Computer Inc.'s IPod strong competition.

However, Enderle says Rio also designed the Karma as an iPod killer: "It's smaller, lighter, and optimized for Windows." The device has a 20GB traditional hard disk that can store more than 5000 MP3 files, according to Rio representatives. What's more, it supports MP3, WMA, and Ogg Vorbis compression technologies.

The Karma, priced at $399, has a built-in 15-hour LiON rechargeable battery, and ships with a docking station that can connect to an Ethernet port, so the player can be part of a network. The station is also an on-board battery charger.

The player has such audiophile pleasers as quick radio-style crossfade between tracks, to create a continuous mix of music for extended playback, and can generate playlists dynamically. It has a five-band parametric equalizer with presets.

Flash players, too

Rio also added two traditional flash-based MP3 players, the Rio Chiba and Rio Fuse. The Chiba is priced at US$169 with 128MB of memory, and US$199 with 256MB, both expandable to 768MB. The Fuse is priced at US$129, and has 128MB of memory.

The devices have large LCDs and support 18 hours of play on a AAA battery. Both are also designed to connect to Apple Macintosh systems running Mac OS X, as well as being able to connect to a Windows PC.

The Rio Chiba also has an FM tuner, and bundles Rio Music Manager 2.0 and a carrying case and armband.

The Rio Cali is designed as a sport player, and is modeled after Rio's current flash player, the Rio S30S. It has the same four-line backlit LCD; a choice of 128MB or 256MB of memory, expandable to 768MB; and 18 hours of battery life. The Rio Cali adds an FM tuner and ships with Rio Music Manager 2.0.

With 128MB of memory, the Rio Cali costs US$169; with 256MB, it is priced at US$199.

"Both the Cali and the Chiba have advanced industrial designs that likely forecast what players will look like going forward," Enderle notes.

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Peggy Watt

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