Rio Chiba 256MB MP3 player

Farewell, jog-dial controls

Reg Review First Diamond Multimedia, then Sonic Blue, now Digital Networks. The Rio range of portable digital music players may have had many parent companies since it was launched back in the late 1990s, but the MP3 pioneer is still going strong. This past summer saw the family updated with set of new solid-state and hard drive-based players.

Leading the solid-state line-up is the Rio Chiba, available in two versions, one with 256MB of storage and an all-black 'urban' casing colour scheme, the other with 128MB and a white-on-black 'sport' theme. We took a look at the first of the two.

The Chiba may boast an unusual, asymmetric design but it fits snugly in the palm of your hand, with the 'Riostick' joystick control in easy reach of your thumb - as is the player's Menu button.

The nice, backlit LCD is large enough to display track name, artist and album title, along with a play progress bar. Clicking the joystick cycles through track time; time elapsed; equaliser setting; file type, encoding rate and size data; and the date and time. A sixth line shows the volume level, playback mode, player mode (radio or digital music) and battery level.

The power button, control lock catch and volume rocker switch are located on top of the player. Underneath sit the headphone jack and the mini-USB 1.1 connector used to interface with the host computer. Half the back of the device comes away to reveal the AAA battery bay and the SD card slot. Behind the battery cover, your memory cards are protected from pocket fluff. Unfortunately, it also means you have to remove the battery before you can insert or remove a card.

Command and control

Chiba's joystick-controlled interface is a new twist on player controls and a big improvement on the now ten-a-penny jog-dials. Able to move in four directions, and with click and click-and-hold actions, the stick provides almost all the navigation controls you need in one. All your track actions are in one place: nudge up for play/pause, down for stop. Push right or left to skip tracks - keep the stick pressed and you fast-forward/rewind (albeit silently). Once you've pressed the menu button, you navigate the player UI using the same control.

The UI is like a hierarchical pop-up menu: a list of options to scroll through, nudging the stick right to select, left to return to the previous menu, pressing down to select the option.

It's remarkably quick and allows you to control the device pretty much with just your thumb, and maybe your index finger too, to set the volume. Players with jog-dials usually require a host of other buttons and aren't as intuitive: jog-dials necessitate one-dimensional UIs that are often tricky to navigate quickly. A fast UI is essential in a portable device you don't want to be flashing around in public any more than you have to.

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