Rio Cali review: Rio Cali

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The Good Compact and lightweight; SD expansion slot; FM radio; stopwatch; robust software; playlist support; strong battery life.

The Bad Doesn't feel supersturdy.

The Bottom Line Rio once again delivers one of the spiffier sports-style MP3 players.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review summary

Last year, the sports-style Rio S35S was a hit. The 256MB Rio Cali ($199), one of three flash-based MP3 players in the company's 2003-04 line, is also athletically inclined and should appeal to runners and gym goers. Like the street-oriented Rio Chiba, which differs in its accessories but not much else, the Cali is attractive and lightweight. Our only concern is how well it'll hold up over time.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

The Rio Cali measures 2.5 by 2.6 by 0.8 inches. Its elliptical shape makes it look like a fancy stopwatch, a feature that happens to be built into the player. At 2.2 ounces with the battery installed, the Cali is so light that you might doubt its build quality. It survived just fine through two weeks of rigorous testing; we just can't say how well it would hold up over several months. The unit comes in a green 256MB and a yellow 128MB version. Both have black rubber trim.

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You slide off this compartment's cover to insert a battery or SD/MMC expansion media. These headphones take a little getting used to, but they fasten firmly and comfortably to your ears.

The Cali comes with an armband and a hip holster. The latter is designed for shorts and running pants; we clipped it to a belt loop to carry the player to the office.

Like the other models in its line, the Cali has a joysticklike button that governs all aspects of playback and navigation. The mechanism is fairly tactile, but in some ways, we prefer the larger navigation key on the older Rio S30S and S35S. There are only four other controls on the body. After some practice, you'll have no problem advancing tracks and adjusting the volume without looking at the player or detaching it from your waist or your arm.

The Cali is powered by a single AAA battery and adorned with a small but readable blue-backlit LCD that displays all pertinent info, including ID3 tags. The SD expansion slot is found in the battery bay (you slide out the battery to get the card in), but with 256MB of onboard memory, you won't feel obligated to add a card right out of the gate.

A brief word about the included above-average earbuds: they're the kind that wrap around your ears to make for a more secure fit, which will appeal to runners. We definitely favor them over the standard earbuds that ship with the Rio Chiba, which doesn't include the armband but otherwise offers similar features.

The Rio Cali's solid feature set should satisfy most users. The 256MB of internal memory hold four hours (a marathon's worth) of tunes, and SD or MMC media will add up to 512MB. All the basics are here: MP3 and WMA playback, shuffle and repeat modes, autoresume, six equalization presets, and control over bass and treble. You also get an FM tuner, a stopwatch, and a time/date display that updates automatically when you sync with your PC or Mac. Only a voice recorder and a built-in rechargeable battery are missing.

The Cali comes with the same intuitive Windows software that ships with most of the models in Rio's autumn lineup. Loading songs and playlists, which the player accepts via a standard USB cable, was a pleasure. The Rio Taxi application lets you use the Cali as a data drive. And a Windows Media Player 9.0 plug-in enables integration with Microsoft's ubiquitous music program, as well as drag-and-drop file transfer on Windows PCs.

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