Rio Carbon 5GB review

Price when reviewed
We marvelled at Rio’s Nitrus for its sound quality and usability, but the Carbon added updates that made our jaws drop when we first saw it. It was the first to offer a 5GB hard disk, its looks went from ‘dodgy plastic’ to ‘iPod-killing chic’, and its superb navigation skills got even better.

We’re big fans of the menu system, with rounded menu bars that are easy to follow and scroll through. Scrolling itself can be performed via the front directional button or the scroll wheel in the top right-hand corner. The latter is slightly slower but preferable to the iPod’s touchpad, as you can use it to easily adjust the volume when fumbling around in your pocket.

Navigation is based on ID3 tags, which can be controlled using Rio Music Manager. This offers some great auto-synchronisation options, such as being able to replace a percentage of your least-played or most-played tracks. However, the Carbon’s WMA-DRM integration makes it compatible with Windows Media Player and most people will use this for all library management options.

We’re fans of the bookmark feature, which instantly lets you save your place in a long track or audio book. The only other feature is the voice recorder. While it’s true that there are no frills like a photo viewer or radio, and also note the lack of a removable battery, we didn’t miss them. If sacrificing such features is what’s required to have such a small and usable device then, so far as we’re concerned, good.

The only design flaw we found was that the headphone jack has a metal rim. Consequently, if you insert headphones that also have a metal rim you’ll get crackling. While this can be fixed with some crafted sticky tape, it’s far from ideal. Still, at least the bundled Rio-branded headphones sound great.

We do have one other caveat: if capacity is your main priority, then consider the Rio Karma – essentially a bigger (and uglier) 20GB Carbon. When we reviewed it, it cost £269. Now it’s £179 from

But nothing matches the Carbon this month. The iPod mini might take it on for capacity, on-the-go playlists and battery life, but its lack of WMA compatibility will be too problematic for most PC users. The iRiver H10 is another alternative. Indeed, it offers many more features than the Carbon; but it’s slightly larger, doesn’t handle so well and has an inferior battery life (12 hours to the Carbon’s 17 hours). As an all-round player, few will go wrong with Rio’s gem.

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