Olympus – m:robe MR-100 review

cute new take on MP3 player design
Photo of Olympus – m:robe MR-100

Portable MP3 players are everywhere. If you don’t have something that fits in your pocket and plays digital audio already you must surely be in the minority. So what can a new product offer if you are considering an upgrade, or looking for your first player?

Olympus, a relatively late entrant to the digital music arena, reckons it has got things right with its m:robe series (apart from the name, obviously). There are two devices to choose from. The 20GB MR-500i incorporates a digital camera while the MR-100 simply plays music and has a 5GB hard drive. It is the latter we got hold of from Olympus for a look.

What immediately catches the eye with the m:robe MR-100 is its unorthodox hardware design and user interface. The hardware itself is small and thin; 14.9mm deep x 52mm high and 90mm wide. Highly pocket-sized, and at 100g it’s highly portable too.

It looks stunning. Tipping its hat to the iPod there is a lot of white on the casing, but it is on the back and sides. The front is silver-edged but strikingly jet black, and as smooth as the smoothest thing you can imagine.

The m:robe MR-100 comes with a docking cradle which means it stands upright when docked. The box also provides a mains power adapter, USB 2 charge and synchronisation cable that you can use with or without the dock, headphones, extension cable for these, and a rather nice soft case. There’s also a CD containing the Olympus m:trip desktop software. Battery life is stated at 12 hours; we managed a few days of listening, with charges at the end of each day, so that sounds fair.

Switch the player on and its unique feature becomes apparent. Two thirds of the front is occupied by a touch-sensitive interface area with giant red icons on display. You rub a vertical strip to move through menus, and tap at the huge icons to play, pause, etc. The screen is also red on a darker red background, and it looks both distinctive and eye-catching. It’s LCD rather than LED, but what a good use of the technology.

We don’t like the fact that the headphone socket is on the left edge of the casing rather than the top; it’s a lot less ergonomic in this location and can jar in a pocket. We’re also not too keen on the way you sync and remove files from the m:robe MR-100, choosing them individually from the lists that the m:trip desktop software offers. Drag and drop to and from an m:robe window would have been a lot easier.

Sound output of both MP3 and WMA files – the only two formats supported – to the provided (white of course) headphones is very good, though the headphones don’t fit the ear particularly well. The equalizer settings make a real difference to output. There are equaliser settings for ‘spoke word’ and ‘on a train’ as well as for a huge range of music types, bass boost and so on.

You can set custom equaliser settings on the m:trip software, which doubles as a PC media player and general music manager, but not on the m:robe MR-100 itself. You need the desktop software to delete files from the m:robe MR-100 itself and create playlists, too.

Company: Olympus

Contact: 0800 072 0070

We're not sure how scratch-free the front of the m:robe MR-100 will remain, and the wide area the user interface covers means that your thumb, which inevitably ends up doing a lot of work, can get a bit stretched. But the sound quality is great and the m:robe MR-100 certainly stands out from the increasingly large crowd.