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Forge: Rio's sleeker Sport player
It seems as though every sporty MP3 player we've come across is covered in useful-but-none-too-stylish rubber. Enter Rio's newest flash player, the Forge Sport. This 256MB device (also available in other configurations) features not only a memory expansion slot and fitness-friendly extras but also a streamlined, metallic design. Better yet, the Forge boasts a reasonable $169 price tag--$30 less than the initial price of its predecessor, the . However, some users may be turned off by the Forge's unreliable FM tuner.
With its charcoal-gray body and chromelike metal accents, the Forge is quite a spiffy-looking sports companion. But Rio doesn't completely forgo the rubberized look, keeping the rugged, grippable material around the edges of the player. At 2.5 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches, the Forge is just a hair smaller than the Cali, but it weighs the same (2.2 ounces with battery) and features a similar right-hand-centric control layout. But rather than a joystick, the Forge utilizes a four-way directional pad (which is accented by cool red backlighting when in use) and center Select key. The Menu button, also backlit, graces the upper-right corner as well. The power button, Hold switch, and volume rocker, all located along the top edge of the player, are actually easier to access with your left hand, so we found that two-handed navigation works best. Center stage is our favorite design asthetic: an easy-to-read, 1-inch screen with a bright, white backlight that gradually fades out when not in use.
Inside the battery compartment, which feels much more secure than that of the Cali, you'll find a memory expansion slot that takes SD/MMC cards with up to 1GB of memory. Ports for the USB cable and the headphones are on the bottom of the Forge and present our only design complaints: The headphone plug can interfere with a comfortable grip, and the USB port is covered with a detached and therefore easy-to-lose plastic piece.
In addition to the player, Rio includes a surprisingly comfortable and secure set of behind-the-ear 'buds, an armband, a standard USB cable, and a CD containing both the user manual and Rio's Music Manager software. Music Manager is a user-friendly music-management app that lets you transfer tunes to the Forge, scan your computer for music files, and create playlists. If you're not feeling up to that last task, you can let the software's Rio DJ do it for you; just set the parameters, and the DJ does the legwork, then lets you save the mix as a playlist. Don't want any more software cluttering your hard drive? The Forge complies. To transfer files, you can also use the Windows Explorer drag-and-drop method or Windows Media Player (WMP). You can even set up an automatic syncing relationship with the player if you have WMP 10.0. Rio plans to offer a free firmware upgrade later this year that makes the Forge Janus-compliant, so it will support subscription content from music services such as Napster.
In addition to being an MP3 and WMA player (and yes, you can play protected WMAs from online music stores as well as Audible content), the Forge Sport is a stopwatch with an integrated lap timer and an FM tuner and recorder. In radio mode, you can set as many as eight presets.