Available in three different memory capacities, the new Rio Forge sports MP3 player will keep your brain entertained while your body grinds away exercising. The Forge range seems to be following in the footsteps of the Rio Cali and has been specifically designed with the sportsperson in mind and is offers much more than just a music player. The organic pod-like design is simple and lightweight and the control of the majority of functions is via 4-way paddle, with a select key, in the centre. Each of the three players in the range has a fixed amount of embedded flash memory, ranging from 128 to 512Mb, and all three have an SD / MCC expansion slot in the rear behind the AAA power source allowing expansion up to 1Gb. Average battery life is around 20 hours and the power source settings can be altered from NiMH to Alkaline to optimize power consumption.
If you are miles away from home and you decide you have had enough of your Bros album, you can activate the FM radio (256 & 512Mb models only). The reception is generally good but can get a little cracky if you are road running through heavily built-up areas. Frequencies range from 88 to 108 MHz and you can store 8 preset stations in the Rio's memory, for quick access. Cunningly, you can also record as well, so if a favorite song comes on you can scoop it up into the Forge, and save it for later. As a space filler, a stopwatch has also been shoe-horned in. This offers the usual start/stop stuff and a lap function, not a great selling point as the buttons are a little small to operate these functions easily if hands are cold.
Music is transferred to the players via a USB cable and the Rio Music Manager software comes supplied in the box. This application is a fairly standard ‘drag n' drop' MP3 recording package that allows all the usual tricks such as File organization and bitrate (64, 96, 128 and 192kbps in WMA mode) alteration to squeeze more music in. The Forge plays both MP3 and WMA files, offering maximum flexibility. Via the Rio music manager you can record in either MP3, WMA , Ogg Vorbis and FLAC.
Naturally if you just want to move existing content, the player can be plugged direct into you computer and recognized as a drive. The Firmware is fully updateable and works with both PC and MAC. From a design point of view, the little cover over the USB port, should be attached to the body, because the way it's currently designed means it is getting lost.
The forge can be worn in a number of ways, either on a belt or attached to a special arm strap rather like some of the Nike Philips players. If you bounce around too much the clip does have a tendency to come unattached, so maybe a pocket is still safest. The same can be said of the special over-ear ‘Sports' design headphones, which again seem to spend more time being put back into the ears than staying in them.
Overall the Forge 256Mb is an easy to use, lightweight and a reasonably well-conceived MP3 player. The expandable quality means that you can purchase the cheaper model and ramp up the spec as far as you need it. The strap design needs working on so that if it does work itself loose it is held captive rather than banging around your ankles.