(Pocket-lint) - Pocket lint was lucky to get an exclusive look at the new MP3 player that is poised to become the next iPod mini challenger.

Based on the chassis of the Rio Nitrus the Carbon is small and nimble. Gone is the annoying joystick that we complained about so bitterly and in comes a simple d-pad and central button on the front. This makes the navigation very simple and the d-pad offers fast-forward, rewind, stop, play and pause. The central button as been designed as an action button and is used for selected songs, menu option or seeing alternative information about the songs themselves.

On the side of the player is the switch that accesses the menu system and that’s it as far as buttons on the player. The top offers the USB 2.0 connector and rather than go for a crazy Rio designed end, Rio has opted for the standard USB connector found on most digital cameras.

The case we saw still had to have some work done to it, the Rio logo lit up but still looked a little ropey - production models will be defused - and we believe that this will be the case. The back like the iPods was made of shiny, highly polished metal although Rio won’t be offering an engraving service like Apple.

Songs can be dragged and dropped on the player and this means that not only will it work on both Apple Macs and PCs, but also means that it’s the first of the Rio’s do so. It also means that you don’t have to rely on dedicated software, although Rio has bundled Rio Music Manager if you really must.

Although the firmware has been changed the menu system is identical to the Rio Karma and whizzing through menus was easy and intuitive and like other models in the Rio range the display, which is Black and White, is large enough to provide all the information you need such as music times, quality, album and song information.

Actually listening to the player and all sounds good. Sound was equivalent to the karma with plenty of base. We tested the player with Guns and Roses and we were very happy with the results and varying audio levels.

First Impressions

It seems Rio has listened to the criticism that reviewers and the public made with the Nitrus and this is the result. Gone are the complains, and rightly so. This is a player that offers 20 per cent more memory that the iPod Mini in a smaller shell all for the same price. File transfer is fast, while the introduction of a pink for the GizmoGirl's and blue will certainly appease the fashion set that aren't happy with the Carbon (get it) colouring. Any criticisms? Only that it hasn't been available sooner.

Writing by Stuart Miles.