Virgin Electronics Player VM-500 (5GB) review: Virgin Electronics Player VM-500 (5GB)

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.3
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 6.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Small and light; dedicated function buttons; supports DRM-protected WMAs (PlaysForSure designation coming soon); dual headphone jacks; FM tuner; kitschy, user-friendly interface; comes preloaded with some songs.

The Bad Unimpressive battery life; must install music manager plug-in before transferring tunes; lacks recording features; no on-the-go playlist feature; unorthodox method of transferring playlists.

The Bottom Line A good device for MP3 novices, the VM-500 has some quirky and likable features, but its poor battery life spoils the party.

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If you've seen Virgin's recent Chrismahanukwanzakah commercials or the Fox reality show The Rebel Billionaire (which stars Virgin's überentrepreneur Richard Branson), you're probably aware of the company's "dare to be different" philosophy. Its latest MP3 player, the VM-500 5GB Player, perfectly fits that mold. The compact unit features several characteristics that distinguish it from the crowd. Unfortunately, disappointing battery life and some design issues keep the VM-500 from being a truly stand-out model, but some users will find its inviting interface and neat extras hard to resist. From its dual headphone jacks to its quirky function messages (when you turn it off, it displays "Going into deep sleep. Zzz."), the Virgin Electronics VM-500 Player stands out as a breed all its own. And while its brushed-metal design is nothing spectacular, the VM-500 has the distinction of being the lightest 5GB microdrive player we've seen to date, weighing just 3.1 ounces. At 3.8 by 2.3 by 0.6 inches, the VM-500 is about flush with the Apple iPod Mini in terms of size. Unlike the Mini, however, the Virgin player offers dedicated and backlit buttons for every function, so you won't have to flounder back to the Now Playing screen to adjust the volume. We appreciate this in its own right but especially because it makes the player a breeze for novice users.

That said, we have a couple of complaints about those buttons. First, the up/down pad is so close to the bottom of the unit that operating it is a bit uncomfortable. When you're using the device, it often feels like the player could slip out of your hand. We appreciate the accelerated scrolling feature, though; if you press and hold the up/down pad, scanning speeds race up to a designated max. Also, all of the buttons on the front of the VM-500 are slightly recessed, which can make them difficult to press, especially for those with large fingers. Other than those objections, the buttons are well laid out, with a Select key located at the center of the up/down pad; Home and Back buttons flanking the up/down pad; fast-forward, play/pause, and rewind buttons directly above; volume controls on the right edge of the player; an FM tuner switch on the left edge; and a power button and a hold switch along the top edge. The dual headphone jacks lie between these last two, while a proprietary DC power jack and a standard mini-USB port grace the unit's bottom side.

Several of the VM-500's functions display rather cheeky messages.

The VM-500's friendly user interface definitely shines. And we do mean friendly: Certain functions pop up amusing personal-sounding messages. For example, when you turn on the player for the first time or when you choose Tour from the About menu, the Virgin player reads, "If you can see this, the screen actually works. Brilliant!" The menus are also intuitively laid out and easy to use; this is aided by Virgin's inclusion of dedicated Home and Back buttons. The main menu offers Music, Virgin DJ, Settings, Game, and About options, and the Music menu is divided into playlists, artists, albums, songs, and genres categories--very straightforward. The 1-inch, grayscale LCD shows information in high-res text and features a dim but useful white backlight. On the Now Playing screen, you get a battery indicator, a graphic of music notes (if you're in the default Repeat mode), a time-remaining indicator, and a blissfully large track name, as well as the artist and album info in slightly smaller text.

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Virgin Electronics Player VM-500 (5GB)

Part Number: VM-500 Released: Oct 12, 2004
Low Price: $157.04 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 12, 2004
  • Built-in Display LCD
  • Tuner Bands FM
  • Run Time (Up To) 8 hour(s)
  • Capacity 5 GB
  • Color Gray
  • Weight 3.1 oz
  • Supported Digital Audio Standards WMA
  • Installed Size No built-in memory
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Type digital player / radio