Motorola M500

Nah, we didn't ever expect Motorola do a line of MP3 players, either, which is why it was such a surprise when we spotted two models, the 5GB M500 and 256MB M25 at their press event back in June. It took a few months, but both players are just coming out and we managed to get our hands on the M500 for a quick review.

Motorola M500

First off, the color. There's no way around it—the weird, greenish-yellow just isn't doing it for us. We'd secretly hoped when we first saw the M500 that Moto would offer some sort of swappable faceplates for it, but no dice, we're stuck with the yellow. If you can get past that, or if you happen to like the color (and to be fair, several of the people we showed it to actually liked it), you're all set.

Motorola M500
It's hard to talk about any 4GB or 5GB MP3 player without referencing the iPod mini, so we'll just get that out of the way right now: the M500 costs twenty bucks less than the iPod, but comes with 25% more storage capacity and and over three times the battery life. It's slightly bigger, but to put things in perspective we put together this chart comapring the M500 to the iPod mini as well as some of its closest competitors, the Rio Carbon, Creative Zen Micro, and Dell Pocket DJ (all of which have 5GB drives):

 

Player

Motorola M500 iPod mini
Creative Zen Micro
Dell Pocket DJ
Rio Carbon
Height
2.5"
3.6"
3.3"
3.5"
2.5"
Width 3.3" 2.0" 2.0" 2.1"
3.3"

Depth

0.7" 0.5"
0.7" 0.5"
0.6"

Weight

3.5 ounces
3.6 ounces
3.8 ounces
4.4 ounces
3.2 ounces

The M500 is right about in the middle of the pack for size and weight.


Motorola M500
Once you get past the unusual color choice, the first thing you'll notice is that the 1.25-inch LCD screen has a horizontal orientation rather than the vertical one you'll find on the iPod mini and most other MP3 players. Doesn't actually make much of a difference, and given the placement of the little joystick control, it actually makes it a little easier to use (unless you're left-handed, of course). However, the display itself is a little smaller than we'd prefer. There is definitely enough room on the front for a larger screen (the iPod mini's screen is 1.67 inches, or roughly a third larger), so obviously they went for the cost savings of using a smaller screen.

Motorola M500
Included in the box: a power charger, USB 2.0 cable, a belt clip-type thing, replaceable battery, and headphones. The headphones aren't so hot—you'll want to toss those out right away. But with a pair of proper headphones (we tested with our trusty Sennheiser HD497) the sound on on the M500 was excellent, with great bass response.

The M500's user interface is fairly intuitive and it's not like we had any trouble figuring out how to get around or do stuff once we'd spent a few minutes with it. You might not want to have to sift through more than 5GB of music with the M500's navigation joystick, but it did get the job done. If you're used to the scroll wheel on the iPod and iPod mini you might not be so hot on it. Moto includes their Motorola Music Manager software with the player, but we didn't even bother installing it since it's possible to just drag-and-drop files onto the M500 over USB 2.0 (using an interface to copy MP3s and WMAs over from a PC is such a headache). However, songs are organized by ID3 tags.

The M500's FM tuner got far better reception than many of the other MP3 players we've played with, but given Motorola's history, it would probably be embarassing if something as basic as an FM radio were anything other than excellent. And we hate to say it, but Apple should have added an FM tuner to the iPod a long time ago, it's not like it would kill their profit margins.

All in all, a solid first foray for Motorola, but is the M500 enough to take on the iPod mini? Probably not. It's not that there's anything wrong with the M500 (except for the highly questionable color choice), it's just that given how crowded the field for 4GB and 5GB players is these days, it takes a lot to stand out more stand out than it used to. To be honest, the Creative Zen Micro or the Rio Carbon are probably the only players that have a shot at dislodging the iPod mini from its lofty perch (and even that's thinking optimistically). That said, if it gets priced a little more competitively when hits stores (MSRP is $229), the M500 should find some fans.

UPDATE: We wrote this review over the weekend, and everything on the player worked fine then, but we feel obligated to mention that the M500 is stuck on the FM tuner. We can't change the frequency, exit to any other screen, or adjust the volume, and not even resetting the player or even removing the battery and restarting solves the problem. Very weird.

UPDATE 2: Finally got it working again!

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