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RCA Lyra RD2212

With the Lyra RD2212 (256MB, $89), RCA attempts to create the ultimate gymworthy music machine and ends up with mixed results. On the plus side, the RD2212 manages to offer a compact, fitness-friendly design without sacrificing screen real estate: You get an ample three-line, backlit amber-colored display with legible text. And, thanks to its 47-hour AA battery life, a single cell can get you through weeks of workouts. Plus, RCA has thrown in some handy extras, including an FM tuner, a calorie counter, and a pulse meter. Unfortunately, the MP3 player's rubberized, splashproof coating causes usability issues, a big negative for a player meant to be used in action.

At 2.8 by 2 by 1 inches and 1.4 ounces, the RCA Lyra RD2212 is ideally sized for workouts. Unfortunately, the rubberized coating that serves to protect the player from moisture (namely, your sweat) covers the already tiny controls and restricts their use. This is especially limiting for the small, five-way joystick, which is used to access all functions. As a result, adjusting playback requires more effort than we'd like--first, you need to stop jogging, then you have to hold the unit in two hands and focus on the interface. This is a pain, but if you're already set on a particular playlist before you head to the gym, it might not matter as much. At least RCA throws in a belt clip and an armband to keep the player out of the way during your workout.

In addition to the device and its accessories, RCA includes a user manual and a software disc. On the latter, you'll find four software programs: a Lyra system application, Musicmatch Jukebox, MoodLogic, and AudibleManager. The first two programs are used for file syncing, though you'll need to use either Musicmatch or Windows Media Player to transfer DRM-protected WMAs. For all other files, the RCA Lyra RD2212 also mounts as a removable disk for drag and drop via Windows Explorer. MoodLogic is an organization app that lets you manage your MP3s and other audio files; for example, you can use it to clean up ID3 tags. AudibleManager serves to download and manage Audible.com content.

Along with Audible.com content, the RCA Lyra RD2212 supports MP3 and WMA music formats, including purchased DRM-protected files, although it's not formally PlaysForSure certified. You can browse files by folder or by a separate menu option that takes you to a screen where tracks are arranged by ID3 tag info such as artist, album, and so forth. Unfortunately, navigating through the interface in this way is time-consuming, as new pages are slow to load. Playback options include shuffle and repeat, and the player offers an on-the-go playlist function called My Selections. If you tire of your digital content, you can tune in to the FM radio, which includes 20 presets. You can also record FM to MP3 format, but there's no mic for voice recording.

Beyond music playback, the RCA Lyra RD2212 provides a stopwatch, a calorie counter, and a pulse-rate monitor to aid you in your fitness routine. You can enter your personal information, such as age and weight, for the calorie tool or place a finger on the small pulse monitor on the top of the unit to get a pulse reading. In cursory testing, both functions seemed to be fairly accurate, but we wouldn't depend on them for serious data.

When we started putting the RCA Lyra RD2212 through its paces, we were greeted with another design issue. The player's battery-compartment door is held on with a screw mechanism to help protect it from spills. Unfortunately, the catch broke off during testing in CNET Labs, so we resorted to tape to hold the cover together. This doesn't speak well of build quality. Fortunately, the player makes up for it with solid sound. Even through the included headphones, there was little distortion and a barely noticeable background hiss. Tunes were even richer and cleaner through our reference Shure E4c earbuds. In a noisy gym, we found it handy using a dedicated DSP button to punch up the audio with Flat, Bass, Pop, Rock, and Jazz enhancement modes. The FM tuner is clear and has a nice option for switching to mono to cut down on distortion. As we mentioned before, battery life is also impressive, squeezing out 47.1 hours of tunes. Transfer times via USB 2.0 are slightly below average at 1.6MB per second.

If you are willing to overlook the RCA Lyra RD2212's flaws but need more memory, RCA offers nearly identical versions of the player with different capacities. The RD2215 offers 512MB for around $129, or you can get the 1GB RD2217 for a notably steep $219.

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