Slide open the back compartment to insert a battery or SD/MMC memory-expansion media.
The shape of the Chiba and the Cali is hard to describe. Each player resembles a fancy stopwatch (and yes, that sports feature is built into them). They're both insubstantial enough to make you doubt their build quality, and the Chiba is slightly lighter and more compact than its sibling. The street model weighs two ounces with the battery installed and measures 2.7 by 2.4 by 0.8 inches. It survived just fine through two weeks of testing, but we can't say how well it would hold up over several months. The Chiba comes in a white 128MB and a black 256MB version, both of which have black rubber trim.
Adorning the Cali is a small but readable blue-backlit LCD, which shows all pertinent song and settings information. Beside the screen are five buttons, one of which is a joysticklike control that governs all aspects of playback and navigation. The mechanism, which the Chiba shares with the other models in its line, is fairly tactile, but in some ways, we'd rather have the larger transport key of the older S30S and S35S. We also prefer the ergonomics of the Cali, which provides a slightly bigger volume button and a better fit for both righties and lefties.
The included holster is designed for shorts and running pants; we clipped it to a belt loop to carry the Chiba to the office. We're happy to report that after some practice, you'll have no problem advancing tracks and adjusting the volume without looking at the player or detaching it from your waist.
A single AAA cell and the SD expansion slot reside in the same bay; you slide out the battery to insert the card.
The bundled Sennheiser earbuds are above average but nothing special. If you're a runner, you'll prefer the Cali's more secure-fitting headphones.
The Chiba's solid feature set should satisfy most users. All the basics are here: MP3 and WMA playback, shuffle and repeat modes, autoresume, six equalization presets, and control over bass and treble. You also get an FM tuner, a stopwatch, and a time/date display that updates automatically when you sync with your PC or Mac. We'd have liked a voice recorder, though. A built-in rechargeable battery would have been nice, too, but some people find swapping in an alkaline cell more convenient than recharging.
The Chiba comes with the same intuitive Windows software that ships with most of the models in Rio's autumn lineup. Loading songs and playlists, which the player accepts via a standard USB cable, was a pleasure. The Rio Taxi application lets you use the Chiba as a data drive. And a Windows Media Player 9.0 plug-in enables integration with Microsoft's ubiquitous music program, as well as drag-and-drop file transfer on Windows PCs.
While the 128MB Chiba holds two hours of music, stepping up to the 256MB model will gain you two more hours. And you can increase the memory to up to 512MB with SD or MMC media.
The Chiba performed as well as its competitors. It played loudly enough to largely drown out the noise of the New York City subway--an impressive feat. As you'd expect from a flash-based MP3 player, this model didn't skip once during the three times we jogged with it. The sound was surprisingly decent through the included earbuds and even better through our Sennheiser test headphones.
Rio preinstalled several sample songs on the Chiba, so you can start listening the moment you pop in the battery. After granting the included tunes a quick audition, we reformatted the memory and loaded our own high-octane playlist.
Battery life was quite good. Rio says you can get up to 18 hours. That's a slight exaggeration, but we did manage to come close, draining the battery after 16 hours of continuous play with the backlight off.