The MPIO FL500 does have some handy and useful functions that are absent from many of its competitors--though not quite as many as its closest competitor, the Creative Zen Nano Plus. Using the FL500's FM tuner was a cinch and gave us fair reception around the office as well as in the stairwell. Saving to one of its 20 FM presets required more than a few clicks through the FL500's menus. These same FM menus give you access to international FM bands in the event that you'll be using the player overseas. Its FM recording mode produced underwhelming results, even after choosing the FL500's highest-quality recording option. Voice recording was average as well but presented a surprising array of options such as voice-activated recording and gain control (also found on the MPIO FY800).
Another fun and surprising feature found in the FL500's system menu is a playback speed control setting, allowing you to speed up or slow down an audio file's playback speed without altering the audio's pitch. This time-stretching effect can be useful for reviewing and clarifying recorded speech or for the pure amusement of playing pop music at half-speed to check for demonic messages. The playback speed feature can be used along with the FL500's A/B loop feature to pick out specific segments of an audio file, loop them, then slow them down. On the downside, chances are slim that you'll remember how to find and use these features when you need them.
Internally, like the MPIO FY800, the FL500 supports MP3, WMA, and ASF file formats and can be switched between a Mac- and Windows-compatible MSC mode (allowing the device to show up as a USB hard drive) and a Windows-specific MTP mode that supports Windows Media Player. The FL500 also lacks support for playlists or ID3 tags. Instead, you'll have to sort all your music into a folder tree and use drag-and-drop transfer to organize your songs.
When set to flat, the MPIO FL500's sound quality held up to scrutiny when compared to that of players such as the Sansa e280R and the Cowon iAudio U3. We found the six EQ presets and the user-defined five-band preset useful in warming up the sound and creating more sparkle in the higher frequencies. Overall, the FL500 produced a consistent and rich sound that defied its size and budget build-quality. The earbuds included with the FL500 were not the worst we've heard, but we strongly urge users to upgrade them.
Our CNET Labs tested the MPIO FL500 and found it was able to last 15 hours on one charge--not bad, but not impressive when compared to less expensive players with more features, such as the Creative Zen Nano Plus, which is rated at around 19 hours.