Preview Olympus is a camera company, isn't it? Not if its latest product is anything to go by. Deciding that the MP3 player market might be the place to make a quick buck, the imaging company that has in the past brought us gems like the One system and the Mju is now trying its hand at portable media players, too, writes Stuart Miles.
Built around a large, 3.7in touch-screen display and a 20GB hard drive, the m:robe is Olympus' take on the Portable Media Centre. Its interface is simple in both design and usability. The menus have a retro feel to them, and Olympus feels that pixelating the graphics will make the unit look cool.
There are three main options: Music, Photo and Remix. The Music does what it says and turns the slimline unit into a DRM-less WMA and MP3 player with all the functions you'd expect, including the ability to display album cover art. The way the interface works pretty much follows the MP3 player standard. On the basis of our short time with the unit at CeBIT - we were forced to listen to hardcore German techno - the sound is good, if a little tinny. Its eight-hour playback time is less impressive.
The Photo option allows you to view images pre-loaded on the device or shoot some more using the built-in 1.2 megapixel camera. Like Olympus' other forays into multi-role models, such as the W10 voice recorder with camera, the m:robe's camera is basic. According to Olympus representative who showed us the unit, it's there "as a gimmick, merely to keep the company hardliners happy" - God forbid that Olympus might stray too far from the cause. Still at least it is not a VGA camera - that would be very bad.
There's a slideshow option - Remix on the menu - whereby you can play back sequences of images, with background music and special effects similar to those found in Apple's iPhoto or Adobe's Photoshop Album software. You don't have to view images on the 3.7in LCD - the m:robe has outputs for VGA monitors and TVs.
Unfortunately, you can't download images directly onto the unit from your higher-resolution digital camera, either by cabling the two together or swapping memory cards. The only way you're going to get images onto the m:robe is by connecting it to your PC. Alas, the software is basic and you have to rely on Olympus' own application to manage the device.
Olympus admits that it's only dipping its toe in the world of music players and that is very evident here. We can't help feel that Olympus isn't quite sure about at what it wants to achieve with the m:robe. On one hand, the large screen, the easy-to-use interface and the 20GB of storage certainly make the m:robe 500i seem a quality offering.
But then the lack of connectivity with any camera let alone an Olympus one is disappointing. So too is the phone-quality 1.2 megapixel camera, and the £350 price tag.
Olympus has missed a trick. Giving folk the chance to view photos in the field - as the eagerly anticipated Nikon Coolwalker is expected to - would have turned this gadget a must-have item for photography buffs who like to listen to music too. As it stands, the m:robe amounts to little more than an expensive, forgettable MP3 player.
|Olympus m:robe 500i|
|Pros||Large touch screen; easy to navigate.|
|Cons||Camera only 1.2 megapixels; bit of a gimmick.|
|More info||The Olympus site|
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