The Good Minimal touch-screen design; beautiful interface graphics; built-in 1.2-megapixel camera; neat Remix slide-show mode.
The Bad Touch screen isn't always responsive; mediocre battery life; bulky; slow processing; must use Olympus M:trip software; cradle is required to recharge device; subpar photo quality.
The Bottom Line The 500i certainly makes a good first impression, thanks to its multifunctionality, its touch-screen display, and its beautiful graphics, but it needs to back them up with better performance.
Olympus M:robe 500i (20GB)
Camera maker Olympus has joined the MP3 domain with the genre-bending M:robe 500i, which features a built-in 1.2-megapixel digital camera and a vibrant, touch-sensitive, 3.7-inch VGA color screen. This multifunctionality as camera, a photo viewer, and an audio player, along with a refined industrial design that features just a single button, makes the 500i one of the most intriguing gadgets we've seen of late. Priced at a premium $500, the 20GB 500i gets high marks for its original approach to music and photos, but issues with the touch-screen interface and overall performance keep us waiting for the next version.
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. One glance at the Olympus M:robe 500i and you know you're dealing with a different breed of MP3 player. Brazenly minimal in design, the 500i looks like a buttonless portable video player that might have appeared in an '80s sci-fi flick. In reality, it has a single power/hold button on its top metallic edge, along with a smart headphone jack and a dock connector on the left and bottom of the device, respectively. The rest of the "buttons" are located within the bounds of the 3.7-inch touch-screen interface. The fixed lens on the 500i's backside indicates that this thing can snap photos. The M:robe, meant to be used in a horizontal orientation, measures 4.4 by 3 by 0.9 inches and weighs 8 ounces, which makes it far bulkier than the (4.1 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches and 5.6 ounces) and more difficult to use while in transit.
When powered up, the 500i's bright, 640x480-pixel display emits an ethereal, whitish glow of text and icons. The screen, which is coated for protection but also attracts fingerprints, is bright enough to see in most lighting conditions. Consistent with the M:robe's futuristic aesthetic, the virtual interface opens with three large glowing icons: a pair of headphones representing music functions, a cube signifying Remix (), and a camera that refers to photo capabilities. Nested in the bottom corner, you'll find a tiny battery indicator, a clock, and two smaller function buttons, one of which clears the interface of unnecessary icons, while the other opens settings. So far, the 500i is too cool to be true.
A light chirp emits from the device when you press any icon, which is a good thing, given the screen's occasional resistance to registering a click. Once you dig deeper into a category such as Music, icons fill the screen. The Home button, located in the top-left corner, opens a drop-down menu that takes you to the Home page or to any of the two other categories, and in this case, the Headphone icon in the top-right corner lets you search for and play music by Favorites, Playlists, Artists, and many other, deeper criteria such as Unplayed Tracks, My Top 100, and so on.