RCA Lyra RD2212
With the Lyra RD2212 (256MB, $89), RCA attempts to create the ultimate gymworthy music machine and ends up with mixed results. On the plus side, the RD2212 manages to offer a compact, fitness-friendly design without sacrificing screen real estate: You get an ample three-line, backlit amber-colored display with legible text. And, thanks to its 47-hour AA battery life, a single cell can get you through weeks of workouts. Plus, RCA has thrown in some handy extras, including an FM tuner, a calorie counter, and a pulse meter. Unfortunately, the MP3 player's rubberized, splashproof coating causes usability issues, a big negative for a player meant to be used in action. If you are willing to overlook the RCA Lyra RD2212's flaws but need more memory, RCA also offers the 512MB RD2215 for $129 and the 1GB RD2217 for a notably steep $219. However, you can find the players deeply discounted online: they each list for around $60.
At 2.8 by 2 by 1 inches and 1.4 ounces, the RCA Lyra RD2212 is ideally sized for workouts. Unfortunately, the rubberized coating that serves to protect the player from moisture (namely, your sweat) covers the already tiny controls and restricts their use. This is especially limiting for the small, five-way joystick, which is used to access all functions. As a result, adjusting playback requires more effort than we'd like--first, you need to stop jogging, then you have to hold the unit in two hands and focus on the interface. This is a pain, but if you're already set on a particular playlist before you head to the gym, it might not matter as much. At least RCA throws in a belt clip and an armband to keep the player out of the way during your workout.
In addition to the device and its accessories, RCA includes a user manual and a software disc. On the latter, you'll find four software programs: a Lyra system application, Musicmatch Jukebox, MoodLogic, and AudibleManager. The first two programs are used for file syncing, though you'll need to use either Musicmatch or Windows Media Player to transfer DRM-protected WMAs. For all other files, the RCA Lyra RD2212 also mounts as a removable disk for drag and drop via Windows Explorer. MoodLogic is an organization app that lets you manage your MP3s and other audio files; for example, you can use it to clean up ID3 tags. AudibleManager serves to download and manage Audible.com content.