Working out can be such a bore without entertainment, and while we're big fans of flipping through magazines on the elliptical machine, the easiest way to zone out during any fitness activity is with some good tunes. You can listen to music while doing pretty much anything: jogging, biking, even swimming. We're glad to see that RCA has added yet another player to the dry-land category. The RCA Jet is a Flash-based player with a rugged, splash-proof design and some handy, fitness-friendly extras.
The RCA Jet comes in two flavors: a 1GB version decked out in yellow and black, and a 2GB version swathed in orange and black. As the 2GB model sells for just five bucks more online ($65 versus $60 for the 1GB), we're not sure why anyone would want to bother with the lower-capacity unit--unless, of course, you're just very keen on yellow. In either case, the color combo may not appeal to everyone, but the sturdy, sweat-proof casing is exactly what a sporty player needs. This particular player has nifty little loops built into either side, where you can snap on the included armband or wristband.
The front of the Jet sports a small (1-inch) monochrome OLED screen that displays white text on a black background--and you can't reverse it, so those who have trouble reading light text on a dark background should steer clear. Below the display is a five-way control pad: track shuttle and volume keys surrounding a central Play/Pause button. The control pad is pretty stiff and the buttons are a little hard to press, plus it takes a moment for the selection to register, so it's not the easiest thing to use while strapped to an arm. Also, we found it a little odd that the headphone jack at the bottom of the player is covered by a splash-proof flap, in that presumably you would be wearing (and listening) to the device while sweat damage was most at issue. But no matter--the standard mini USB port is also covered by one of these flaps, and that makes infinite sense.
Another of the RCA Jet's quirky characteristics is the menu structure. It's a little funky in that there are two top menus, alternately activated by pressing the menu button on the top edge of the player either once or twice. The first includes options for Now Playing, Music, Audiobooks, Radio Records, and something called My Selections (an on-the-go playlist feature). The second menu offers selections for Shuffle, Repeat, EQ, adding/clearing My Selections, and a Go To choice, which in turn takes you to the FM radio, stopwatch, and BMI calculator. Call us crazy, but couldn't that be more elegantly handled in one top menu and several submenus with items grouped into related areas (e.g. Play mode)? It's not that hard to pick up on the navigation, but the overall experience is more of a hassle than it needs to be. Still, at least music is arranged in the standard Creative interface, making it easy to find the track you want.
On the music side, the Jet offers the standard PlaysForSure compatibility. It plays MP3s and both protected and unprotected WMAs (subscription, too). Sadly, the player doesn't offer support for transferred playlists--you just get that one on-the-go My Selections list. Also, there's no photo or video playback, but for a fitness-oriented device such as this one, we're much more keen on the stopwatch and FM radio (for tuning into gym TVs) any day. And you've got to appreciate the sporty clip-on earphones.
Sound quality is actually pretty decent through those included earphones, but rock tracks did suffer from muffling. In general, though, the Jet offered fairly clear highs and good representation in the mids, and little response on the low end. It's certainly passable for the gym, and it gets plenty loud. Music sounded better when we swapped in a set of Shure SE310s. These 'phones brought out the bass and did away with the muffled quality on the rock tracks. In fact, we found that the RCA is quite capable of offering good audio when paired with a good set of headphones--music sounded rich, full, and clear. The rated battery life of 15 hours is just average, and CNET Labs didn't even make it to that, squeezing out 14.2 hours.