on Tuesday, May 03 (2005) 09:00PM by Austin Vaughan comments: 0 author awarded score: 75/100 hits: 44881
The screen on the MR-500 is certainly one its best features. This is a 3.7-inch LCD with 640 by 480 pixels (VGA), capable of 260,000 colors (18-bit). I believe this is the highest resolution you can get on a screen of this size. I've seen similiar displays only on a few high-end PDAs and one other player, the Epson P-2000. You can't even see the individual pixels at this density. Images look sharp and detailed. It's hard not to be impressed when you first see this screen.
However, there are a couple of issues with the screen's performance when you take a closer look at image quality.
For starters, it doesn't render blacks and dark areas as well as I'd like when viewing pictures. Dark parts of an image have a dull glow and a slightly reflective property. If you tilt the left-hand side of the screen towards you, by the time it's at a 30-40 degree angle the image looks like a negative from a roll of film. I mention this because the effect is apparent to me even when looking straight-on at the screen, though it's not really glaring or bothersome for casual browsing. It helps if you tilt the right-hand side of screen towards you a bit, like 5 degrees.
Colors look good for the most part, but not great. Images seem dull and bluish compared to the same pictures on my computer's LCD. When I went to tweak the screen settings on the MR-500 I found that there really aren't any settings to change. No way to adjust the contrast or color balance. The only controls lie in the Settings Menu off of the Main Menu where you can change the brightness and backlight duration (5, 15, 30 seconds or always on).
Also, the limits of the screen's color-depth are visible in some instances, though you probably wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it. The effect is colors that are clearly seperated instead of smoothly blended. Mostly this appears on flat, plain surfaces, like walls in the background. The same pictures show no such seperation when displayed on a computer's LCD, which has the advantage of 32-bit color-depth.
The backlight seems bright, which is good, because you need it in order to see anything on the screen. Without the backlight, the screen is completely dark and unreadable. Even with a direct source of light over the player it's hard to make out anything useful. This isn't much of a problem since all you have to do is touch some part of the screen and the backlight flips on.
Outside, in sunlight, the screen is pretty much unusable with or without the backlight. This was clear right away when I went to take some outdoor snapshots with the MR-500's camera, which turns the screen into your viewfinder. The problem being that the screen gets totally washed out in bright light. If you must use it in a sunny area, you'll want to bring along the wired remote and some kind of opaque bag for when you need to access the GUI.
The MR-500 is the first MP3 player to feature a touch-screen display. Aside from the power button, ALL the controls are handled through the GUI. I've used a PalmPC before so this kind of thing isn't totally new to me but it feels a little futuristic all the same. The real question is how well this interface is going to hold up in the long run, after the novelty of it wears off.
So I've been using the MR-500 for about a month now and while the touch-screen is still an interesting part of the design it really would have been nice to have a few real, mechanical buttons to compliment it. Specifically, it could use volume controls and simple playback controls (play/pause, FF/Next, RW/Previous) built into the main unit. They could have been put these on the same edge as the power button to keep things tidy.
The thing about a touch-screen, or at least this one, is that it's a little tricky to use. Often you'll need to hit the same spot on the screen more than once to get it to do what you want. The more you do it, the better you get a feel for exactly the right kind of touch but it's not a wholly accurate system even after weeks of use. It's still common that I have to hit a button on the screen a couple of times before it recognizes my command. It's just something you'll have to live with but it's not that much of a bother. Long fingernails seem to help.
The main drawback of having an entirely touch-based player is that you'll always need to be looking at the screen in order to operate it. With a player like the iPod, you can easily adjust volume, skip tracks, and pause/play all by feel, even when it's out of sight. The MR-500 does come with an in-line remote which you can use for basic playback functions but not everyone wants to use one of these on a regular basis. I don't like dealing with the extra cabling, personally.
The only physical control on the MR-500 is a single button used for turning the Power on and off, and for use a hold switch. Press it down a few seconds to power it up or shut it off, or tap it once to power down the screen and activate hold mode. When it's in Hold, nothing that touches the screen will affect it so you'll want to do that before tucking it away in your pocket.
Yeah, my friend had the S9 and he really loved it, especially the custom GUIs people would cook up.
I noticed that Cowon recently released a D20 and an X9. They both look rather tempting. Availability looks spotty at the moment though :L
My favorite DAP probably would have been the Zune30, if it was slightly more customizable. The RIO players had great auto-playlisting & searching support.
Similarly, the Haier Ibiza (despite its other shortcomings) has a brilliant filter feature and related features during playback.
It, however, can't make a shuffle list to save its digital life so it gets on my nerves using it as my car player.
Yeah, people still seem to love convergence devices. I'm still of the mind that I'd rather have devices that are designed for a specific task, and execute that task properly. The biggest pet peeve I have is crappy tools, and convergence devices by definition, are crappy tools. By attempting to do everything, they do no single task well.
@Saijin: The J3 is one of the best DAPs I've had. The GUI is way better than the S9. The hardware is pretty similar. I still have a special place in my heart for the iRiver Clix, though. Loved the interface on that so much...
The problem we have today is that hardly anyone actually uses a DAP and they don't want to carry more than one device. I probably carry my mp3 player more than my phone, but I realize most people are not like me
That sounds like a decent size for a music library. How are you finding the Cowon? They seem to be one of the few manufactures left that makes anything halfway decent. I'm not interested in Yet Another Android Slate (YAAS) like the Archos line have devolved into.
But Sarah, the iProducts are the bestest things ever! Their batteries last like, totally way longer than like, other players do!