If you are going to go up against the iPod, whether you like it or not you have to not only offer what the iPod is offering, but because it is so loved by it seems everyone you have to put out all the stops to make that leap forward. Luckily for the Rio Karma, this is a model for the Apple-hating PC fanboy to fall in love with.
The 20Gb of memory, the blue glowing docking station and the Ethernet port are just some of the nice features this player offers. On top of that it sounds pretty good too.
Rio has opted for squarer, thicker and overall more solid edges than Apple's market leader. It may not be sleek and shiny with metal backing that can be engraved but this palm-sized unit sits comfortably in the hand. The front offers a large mono LCD display that glows blue with the backlight and that can easily show large and clear all the relevant details. In the top right corner there is a joystick that controls play, pause, fast-forward, rewind and stop. There is a quick button to access the menu and the volume control is left to the side of the player. Also on the side is a jog wheel that allows you speed through the menus if you are too lazy to use the buttons.
From an interface point of view the software is very easy to use and choosing the relevant song is just as easy as on the iPod, in fact if you've tried the invisible wheel system on the iPod and had difficulty using then this will be a very pleasant experience.
Connecting to the PC (it's not Mac compatible) is achievable with USB2.0 (either via the dock or the player on its own) or if you want to share music over the network you can connect the player via the Ethernet cable included in the box. However this is only available via the docking station. The docking station also acts as the charging unit and glows blue when charging. An even nicer addition to the docking station is the addition of RCA (red and white) phono connectors meaning you can easily connect it to a hi-fi or television without much hassle and therefore listen to your music without needing a PC.
The headphones supplied in the box are pretty standard, however the player offers good all-round sound with ample bass and treble. If travelling on public transport where you may need more bass, you can of course adjust them yourself within the menu system. Like the iPod there are plenty of options available including stopwatch and the ability to turn it in to portable harddrive for saving work files.
As an alternative to the iPod this is as good as they come. Better still Rio hasn't tried like so many companies to copy the iPod in any way on the form factor or interface. Yes there are similarities, but only the kind that every MP3 player would have. What Rio has produced is an alternative to the all-conquering iPod. It might not be as sleek (in fact almost deliberately mini-PDA styled), but it's just as mean and powerful.