Combine a small hard drive, good-sized LCD and built-in digital camera and you might have the ultimate portable multimedia box. Pint-size audio players and photo viewers abound, but Olympus' M:robe 500i (price yet to be announced) is the only player we've seen to add a digital camera to the mix. We have to give Olympus credit for a great concept, but it seems to be a hat trick the company did not quite pull off.
We tested a shipping version of the (just) pocketable device, which plays WMA and MP3 music files, lets you view photos on its 3.7in colour screen, and has a built-in 1.2Mp camera for taking spur-of-the-moment snapshots. As a music player, the 4x1x3in M:robe is a little bulky, especially compared to other hard drive-based players like the ubiquitous iPod.
The quality of the audio was about par for small players we've listened to, and the M:robe does come with an in-line remote control for the headphones, which makes stashing the device in a bag more practical. One nice feature: you can quickly add a current cut to a "Favorites" list by touching a heart-shaped icon on the screen.
Digital photos we transferred to the M:robe looked pretty good on the device's 640x480 pixel screen, but shots we took with the built-in camera are about what you'd expect from a mobile phone’s camera.
Taking photos could not be easier: just view the scene on the LCD and touch the screen. But the colours in the resulting shots looked a bit flat and darker than we'd like (you really need a good light source).
You also have few options when using the camera: no exposure control of any sort; no digital zoom; and no flash, though there is a single illumination LED next to the lens. The M:robe supports PictBridge, which lets you connect it to a compatible printer and print photos without a PC.
In this multimedia age, combining photos with music is an attractive concept, and the M:robe lets you do this with its Remix function. The feature lets you attach one music file to a collection of photos, allowing you to create simple slide shows with audio. Making Remix Cubes, as Olympus calls each photo/music set, is easy once you get the hang of it (although I had to consult the manual the first time).