Motorola M500 Digital Audio Player (5GB) review: Motorola M500 Digital Audio Player (5GB)
Motorola entered the MP3-player market in late 2004 with its exercise-friendly, flash-based M25. Now, the company known for cell phones ups the ante with its 5GB Motorola M500 ($230). Featuring a unique, minimalist body design and a Rio user interface, the M500 adds to the growing subcategory of compact midcapacity players. While the MP3/WMA player includes an FM tuner and Audible compatibility, its true selling point is its amazing battery life. Unfortunately, a poorly designed joystick makes for some rough interface navigation.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. If you're in the market for a chartreuse-colored MP3 player, look no further than the Motorola M500. The smooth, silver-and-yellowish-green plastic body measures 2.5 by 3.3 by 0.7 inches, weighs 4 ounces, and is designed to be used in Landscape orientation. It's a modern and playful design that's a tad heavier and thicker than an iPod Mini. Either you like its looks or you don't.
The 1.25-inch, backlit LCD is one of the smallest we've seen on a microdrive-based player; in comparison, the iPod Mini has a 1.7-inch screen. But with the decent backlighting (which fades out) and a well-organized interface, it's not really an issue. Still, there's room for a larger, easier-to-read display.
To the right of the LCD is a five-way joystick (dubbed the Thumbstick) that works well in four of five directions. The joystick, along with the embedded Rio software interface, makes diving in and out of menu choices and controlling the player a real breeze. Unfortunately, the joystick's fifth direction--pushing straight down to act as a Select button--registers only about 25 percent of the time, so you're constantly activating the wrong function. There are several menu items that require a downward push of the joystick, and it's completely frustrating when something as simple as a controller doesn't work. For those of us here at CNET, the M500's lame joystick is a deal buster. It's a real shame, too, given the M500's light but solid feature set and its awesome battery life.
Speaking of batteries, the one in the M500 is removable. Pressing the lone button on the left spine unlocks the back cover that hides the lithium-ion battery. The only other physical highlights are dedicated volume buttons, a hold switch, and a USB port, which is guarded by an attached rubber cover that does not easily stay closed, let alone sit flush with the player.
The M500 ships with a clear plastic belt clip, a hand strap, standard earbud headphones, a wall wart-style power adapter that plugs into the M500's USB port (the player can be charged via USB, too), a software CD, and an iTips Smart Connector. Bonus: the player comes preloaded with 20 Billboard Hot Tracks.Overall, the Motorola M500 is a basic player peppered with a few useful extras. It's compatible with MP3, protected WMA (so you can shop for music online), and Audible files. A staple of Rio software, the bookmarking feature is handy for long audio files or for audiobooks. As many as nine bookmarks can be set, and selecting one will take you to a precise place in an audio file. You can also store as many as eight FM tuner presets and record radio content as 128Kbps MP3 files. Finally, there's a stopwatch, which is another carryover from Rio software.
As mentioned earlier, the menu interface is straightforward when it comes to main menu items: Play Music, Bookmarks, Settings, FM Tuner, FM Record, Stopwatch, and About. Conveniently, the first option under Play Music is Play All. You can also browse and play music by album, artist, genre, track, year, new music, playlist, spoken word, and FM recordings.
There are some basic setting options such as shuffle and repeat for playback and FM stereo/mono or FM regions selection, but overall, the choices are pretty basic. Again, the Thumbstick draws harsh criticism from us because it's a frustrating controller to use when adjusting various player settings.
The M500 will show up as a drive letter in Windows XP and Mac OS X. You can drag and drop files, utilize Windows Media Player 10.0, or use the included Motorola Music Manager software. There's a plug-in available for Mac users who wish to go with iTunes.Is chartreuse just not doing it for you? Is the Thumbstick annoying you, too? Well, the Motorola M500's saving grace is its stellar performance. It's a good-sounding player (but try using better headphones than the ones it ships with) with five decent EQ presets and a custom EQ option. You have to drill into the menu to adjust EQ, but at least you can hear the adjustments in real time. The FM tuner is also strong, and recordings sound solid.
The M500 can also handle file transfers quickly at a rate of 2.9MB per second over USB 2.0. The astounding statistic for us, though, is the M500's battery life, which clocked in at more than 35 hours in CNET Labs' tests, 10 hours more than Motorola's rating. The closest player in the microdrive category is the Rio Carbon at 20 hours.
So we mentioned "occasional software glitches." Once, while attached via USB to our PC, the M500 just stopped working. We tried everything in the book to revive it--turning the power on and off, pulling out the battery, blowing on it--all to no avail. The next day, it booted up. We've read online about similar behavior, so caveat emptor!