It goes without saying that when it comes to portable electronics, smaller is almost always better. Newly acquired Rio's 1.5GB Nitrus breaks the latest size barrier by being the first MP3 player to feature an integrated 1-inch hard drive, as opposed to the 1.8-inch drive found in devices such as the Apple iPod. We wish that the Nitrus were cheaper than its current list price ($199), which is the same as the entry-level 10GB iPod's. But it's a slick player that will be worth the cost for users who want better battery life, are looking for a smaller package, and feel that 20 hours' worth of music is plenty to listen to on a given day.
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.
At 2 ounces and 3 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches, the Rio Nitrus has design specs that sound more like those of a flash-based player than a hard drive-based one. (Unlike the official specs, these measurements were taken at the largest points on the device's curved chassis.) The player's outer rim is rubberized, making it easier to grip and less vulnerable to damage if dropped.
In terms of style, the Nitrus presents a clean, slick, mini radar-detector-like appearance, with a shiny black front and a bare minimum of well-placed buttons that make it simple to operate with one hand. A jog dial on the upper-right corner handles navigation on the backlit LCD, which has a high enough resolution (96x64) to display the advanced menu system found on previous Rio products. A red laptop-style multidirectional control in the center of the front panel handles playback and some navigation functions, while a sturdy Hold switch on the back of the player prevents accidental button activation.
No in-line remote or carrying case is included (in fact, all you get is the player, an AC adapter, and Sennheiser earbuds), and neither is offered as an accessory at this time. Since the device is meant to be toted in a pocket, this isn't major faux pas, but a thin, protective case could prevent scratches from keys and other in-pocket objects.
The Nitrus's small, light design makes it suitable for jogging, but jostling the player while it's in the process of reading from the hard drive to the flash-memory buffer can cause your music to skip and may ultimately damage the device (it has 90-day warranty). Rio claims that it is indeed suitable for jogging--and it might be--but you're probably better off with a high-end flash player if you're looking for an athletics-oriented unit.