Middle ground: Rio's 2.5GB ce2100
Nearly everything you need to know about the $180 Digital Networks Rio ce2100 can be found in our review of the Rio Carbon Pearl except for this: The ce2100 shouldn't be your next audio player. Sure, it boasts the same stylish design; commendable support for MP3, DRM WMA, and Audible files; and stellar battery life. In short, it's a great player, one we'd be glad to introduce to our music collection. So what's the problem? Well, for a mere $20 more, the Carbon gives you twice the storage (5GB) and a voice recorder. Unless your budget simply won't stretch that far--or, for some reason, you prefer to carry only a small amount of music--there's absolutely no reason to choose the 2.5GB, recorder-less ce2100.
Even so, we love the player. Barely half an inch thick and weighing just 3.2 ounces, the shiny black ce2100 oozes cool, especially when the red backlight illuminates the Rio logo and the four-way control pad. That pad manages playback (play/pause, stop, and so on), while a jog dial in the corner controls volume and scrolls you through the ce2100's generally excellent menu system. As with the Carbon, all that's missing is a hold switch. To lock out the player's controls, you have to delve a few steps into the menus. And further proof that this is the Carbon's neglected stepbrother: there's a microphone hole but no voice-recording capability.
Like the Carbon, the Rio ce2100 plays MP3, WMA, and Audible files. It supports DRM-protected WMA tracks, and now, with the latest firmware update, it can also play back subscription-based downloads from services such as Yahoo Music Unlimited and . On the upside, joggers will appreciate the ce2100's built-in stopwatch, and audiobook listeners will make use of its simple bookmark feature (which also works with music).
The ce2100 is smaller overall than the Apple iPod Mini, but it offers almost the exact same battery life. It lasted a bit more than 20 hours in our rundown test, a huge selling point. What's more, the player can recharge via USB or its AC adapter. File transfers zipped along the USB 2.0 connection at a respectable 3.2MB per second.
We thoroughly enjoyed listening to music on the Rio ce2100; our tunes sounded clear and vibrant, without a hint of hiss. Even the stock earbuds, the bane of most MP3 players, sounded good, and we didn't immediately lunge for our favorite headphones. Speaking of which, the ce2100 doesn't suffer from the static problem that plagued the first-generation Rio Carbons; all headphones we plugged in worked just fine.
Yep, this is one great player. But absolutely everything we admire about the Rio ce2100--its sexy design, great sound, slick interface, long-lasting battery, and so on--can also be found in the Rio Carbon Pearl. With twice the storage space for just $20 more, that's the model you want.