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The S30S's red, rubberized case and asymmetrical, ergonomic shape demonstrate the great strides that the company has made in the design of its portable audio players. At 2.5 by 2.75 by 0.8 inches and 2.2 ounces with the battery installed, the oval S30S is small and lightweight enough to be practical for active endeavors.
The backlit LCD features a similar, rounded aesthetic, with expanding text bubbles and graphical sliders that enable easy song and menu navigation via the large, circular, four-way toggle button on the front. With a design unique to Rio, the included over-the-ear headphones look a bit like Secret Service earpieces but are surprisingly comfortable and pliable. The clear-plastic belt clip is also flexible; it wraps around the back of the player like a hand for a secure fit and provides an extra layer of protection for the S30S's already durable body. Occasionally, the buttons on the player don't line up precisely with the holes in the case, so you may find yourself playing around with the alignment. If you prefer, the same case attaches to your body via an included elastic armband.
Unlike some MP3 players, the S30S comes with a USB cord that reaches from the back of a computer on the ground to the top of a desk. If you don't own a USB hub and must, therefore, connect the cable directly to the back of your computer, this will save you lots of aggravation.
While this player lacks a voice recorder or PDA functionality, it has an FM radio and can play MP3s and WMAs--all that you need for the gym. For any playback situations, six preset EQs add bass or treble; you can also set your own EQ by manipulating the graphical sliders. Additionally, you can have a bookmark save your spot in a file--a nice plus for audiobook fans. The standard repeat and shuffle features are included as well. The S30S comes with 64MB of onboard memory and has a MultiMediaCard expansion slot for increasing storage up to a total of 192MB.
The S30S digitally receives FM stations via a seek function, manual tuning, or eight presets. Using the presets is a good idea, as the seek function often stops on empty channels, and manual tuning takes too long.
The included RealOne software does a fine job of encoding MP3s at bit rates up to 320Kbps--unlike the free version, which encodes tunes at up to only 96Kbps--while the clean, simple Rio Music Manager transfers files to the device. Mac users will find that iTunes handles both functions with aplomb.
Sonicblue also includes a trial version of MoodLogic, which fixes incorrect song information in the ID3 tags of 100 MP3s before asking you to register.
Unlike the less sporty, rechargeable Rio S50, the S30S includes only a standard AAA alkaline battery. At slightly less than 15 hours, battery life was just as the company claimed. One caveat: Don't leave the S30S's power switch in the on position or the battery will drain. The S30S has no autoshutdown feature--just a power-save mode that slowly sucks away juice.
Using the included headphones, we found that the S30S's sound quality didn't knock our socks off but was definitely acceptable. Our test headphones improved fidelity, although perhaps not enough for serious audiophiles with exacting standards. Radio reception was a bit fuzzy on weaker stations, but we didn't expect perfection from an MP3 player.
We filled the player almost to its 128MB capacity in about five minutes, making for a better-than-average transfer rate of 0.39MB per second.
If you like the looks of the reliable, well-designed S30S but want more internal memory, try the step-up Rio Sport S35S, which offers an expandable 128MB of memory but keeps the same sporty design.