A few manufacturers have railed against the distinctly digital look of late -- old-school Tivoli radios and rotary handsets that plug into itty bitty mobiles are but two examples. MPIO's FL500 is another device whose looks tend towards the analog. A very lightweight (23 grams), triangular player with rounded corners (the form factor was apparently inspired by the contours of an electric guitar), the FL500's retro looks set it apart from your average flash-based MP3 player.
Instead of clickwheels and touchpads, the FL500 sports two mechanical silver dials. Spinning the top dial controls the volume level, while the bottom selector flicks between MP3, FM radio and recording modes. On the back of the player is a large silver belt clip, which can be removed by undoing the oversized silver screw on the front. Ditching the belt clip leaves you with a circular hole, through which you can thread a lanyard if you fancy the "MP3 player as accessory" look doing the rounds in schoolyards nowadays (or so we hear, anyway).
A three-line (128 x 48 pixel) monochrome display materialises upon powering up the player, and keeps you informed of the current track title, EQ, play mode, time and battery level, as well as a moving "visualisation" of the left and right sound bars -- the same as you'll find on your average vintage stereo. A hold switch, menu button, play/pause/skip rocker and mini USB port feature on the sides of the FL500, arranged in a manner that lacks logic or consistency, but at the very least looks unobtrusive.
Although the FL500 has a small footprint, you will probably need to use two hands when navigating through your song list, as the triangular shape makes the player a little too unwieldy for single-handed operation. The buttons and dials can be frustrating, especially the rocker that controls menu movement and song playback -- it is small, prone to occasional misbehaviour, and leaves an indent on your fingertip.
The small display caused the same problems we had with the-- not being able to view more than three tracks in your library at one time is a lamentable restriction, and having to wait for titles to scroll across the screen in order to find out what you're listening to is also cause for irritation. (In fairness, you can adjust the scrolling speed so that the text zooms across the screen, but we'd still prefer our info to be displayed in its entirety.)
One non-negotiable design-related complaint: the earbuds. Use another pair, because those supplied are just no good. The buds were too big for our ears, and they've obviously been made on the cheap.