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Review: Rio Karma 20Gb MP3 Player

by Jo Shields on 24 April 2004, 00:00

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qaxo

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Karma Chameleon

Opening the Karma's pleasant packaging reveals the player and its dock side by side in plastic recesses. Okay, that's a lie, opening the packaging reveals the driver CD, instructions and random papers that all right-minded people throw to one side immediately. There are a few subtle differences with the UK version of the Riô Karma, mostly related to presentation. The US version comes in a plastic blister packaging, the kind that needs an industrial laser to get into, compared to the simple cardboard packaging of the UK model. The UK Karma also comes with a 1-year warranty, rather than the 90-day warranty on the US version.

Right from the outset, the Karma is an odd little thing. None of the aluminium or acrylic of its competitors, this is a silver plastic and rubber affair. The form factor, again, is odd - a short, thick square rather than a more traditional Walkman shape. Very odd. Build quality is fine, it feels very sturdy, though the plastic covering the screen seems a little prone to scratches. "Ugly"? Maybe. But unless you're starring in an iPod advert, your player stays out of sight in your pocket, where it's less likely to get nicked. And does your pocket really care what a player looks like?

The square design works fairly well though, sitting comfortably in the palm of the right hand, and with access to the scrollwheel on the top of the player and "Riôstick" on the front. There's a left-handed mode, which turns everything on its head, but it really really doesn't work very well with all the controls in the bottom left corner.

The bottom of the player features a power connector - the battery is built in and not user-replaceable - a mini-USB connector for connecting to a PC via USB2.0, and a proprietary connector for sitting the Karma in its docking cradle.

The top houses a clickable scroll wheel for menu navigation, the power button, and the headphone socket. See the in-line remote slot? Ignore it. There never has been, and more than likely never will be, an in-line remote for the Karma. And really, this is my biggest problem with the thing. It's easy to put the thing into a pocket, but if you want to change track, you have to fish about in your pocket to find the player, deactivate hold, tap the stick, re-activate hold, and put it back into your pocket. The player is not an ideal shape for getting in and out of a jean pocket, and it's a real irritation to not have some basic control without having the player in hand rather than out of sight and mind.

The front of the player has a big, backlit screen, the main menu button, and the Riôstick, a clickable 4-way joystick which either navigates the menus or provides basic playback functions.

The dock securely houses the Karma, and is a convenient way to have the player setup when not on the move. The connectors, however, will raise a couple of eyebrows.

From the left, we have stereo RCA line-out jacks, for plugging the Karma into a hi-fi. Next is the power connector, allowing you to charge the Karma by dropping it into the dock. Next is the USB connector, also found on the player itself, for plugging into a PC. Last, and certainly not least, is the RJ45 connector, allowing the Karma to plug into a 100baseTX TCP/IP based network.

Underneath the player and dock lie the rest of the box contents:
  • A line-out cable
  • A set of Sennheiser MX300 ear buds
  • Mains adapter
  • Ethernet cable
  • USB2.0 cable
So far, so good. First, to take a look how the software handles.