Olympus M:Robe

Date Thu, June 26 2008

The M:Robe 100 by Olympus, is sexy, really sexy. In fact, it was one of the first MP3 alternatives to the oh-so-popular Ipod that actually looked good. I had scoped out different players on the internet, focusing on, what was at the time, in between sizes between 4 to 6 GB of space. At this time, Apple hadn’t yet decided to screw people over completely by taking the Ipod Mini off the market and replacing it with smaller versions which were more expensive so I was also considering that as well as some Creative products. As I am wont to do, I didn’t buy anything because I hated to part with large sums of money and this would be the largest yet.

What eventually would happen is that I would stumbled across the M:Robe (short for “robe yourself in music” I believe) 100 in the Radio Shack in the mall which would prove to me that, yes indeed, this was a sexy MP3 player. At around $130, it was more than affordable compared to some alternatives and, what was most important, was it was there. So I purchased it, brought it home, and gave it googly eyes some more.

Then I decided to test it out. I plugged the dock in to the wall and connected the USB cord to my computer, put the M:Robe in its dock and ran the install software. The M:Robe comes with Olympus’ M:Trip software which is not very intuitive. Additionally, one cannot simply drag and drop music onto the MP3 player via explorer folders, as many prefer. Overall, the software would be the largest downfall of this sleek like machine.

In my excitement, I added my entire music folder which was much larger than the capacity of the M:Robe to the M:trip library. Upon adding it to the library, songs are automatically selected to sync with the player. This obviously didn’t work so well and M:Trip soon told me there was not enough room. I would have to be more level headed about this so I decided to start anew, cleared the library and went again.

Only, clearing the library does only just that. The music still stayed on the player. This was resolved by me opening the player from “My Computer” and manually deleting everything in there which I only discovered after several fruitless phone calls to Olympus. Looking back, this probably makes more sense than it did to the Cole back then who had never used an MP3 player like that before.

I imagine it’s easier to transfer music to the M:Robe, or any MP3 player, if your collection is more organized than mine or if you don’t actually have music that you don’t want to transfer. Going through thousands of songs to decide which to transfer is kind of a bummer but now that I have the majority of songs I actually want on my player, on my player, it’s not a huge deal to add new songs at the time that I download them.

After adding the songs to the library in the M:Trip software, you can sync. The M:Robe should be turned on while in the dock which will produce a message on the player’s screen indicating it’s connected and do not turn off (Docking the MP3 player while it’s off will recharge only). A little zig-zag arrow in the bottom, right corner of the software is the sync button. An alert asks what you want to sync and you’re good to go. It takes a bit to do so and once it’s done, make sure to disconnect the M:Robe (the button below the sync button) before removing it from the dock.

Of course, M:Trip software can do a bit more. It functions as a music player, as well as lets the user update information about each track. The M:Robe has lyrics capability and the user inputs lyrics for each track in the “Properties” screen via the software.

Furthermore, users can create play lists, add music to their favourites and view songs in the library by Genre, Artist, Album and Year. There’s a screen for searching the library which I find most frustrating because one actually has to use the mouse to select “Find;” key commands have no control here.

Lastly, M:Trip allows the user to create remixes of their songs. I leave this to the professionals so I don’t have an opinion. The software also has an area for editing photos even though the M:Robe 100 does not support photos. This is because the same software is used for it’s successor, the M:Robe 500i; has this feature and they use the same software.

The M:Robe – which supports MP3 and WMA tracks – has a sleek red on black digital touch screen for navigating. Unfortunately, this relies on heat sensations so this player didn’t work as well during the winter months when I was wearing gloves. Other than that, I had no issues with it.

Once you start playing with the M:Robe itself, you’ll see it’s easy to figure out quickly. If you’re looking for some advanced options, they’re there but it’s also good to use as a simple music player without fancy features, which is what I do.

The main menu – accessible from any screen by pressing and holding the Menu button for a few seconds – lists Music List, Browse, Music Settings and Device Settings.

Edit the Date/Time, Language, Backlight, Off Timer and and other settings under “Device Settings.” Change the Repeat, Random and Equalizers settings under “Music Settings.” Browse by Artist, Album, Genre, Composer or Year under the “Browse Mene.”

Finally, the “Music List” allows one to see All (in alphabetical order), Favorites (designated in the software), Recently Listened (Last 20 tracks played), My Top 20 (20 most played tracks), Tracks With Lyrics, Unplayed Tracks (all tracks show up here in the beginning) and any playlists created by the user. It’s all straight forward.

Select Play for any of these categories or go into the category to select a specific song and you’re on your way. The song screen will show the songs number out of the total number of tracks in that category, The length of the song and current location within the song, time, battery strength and settings like Repeat/Random, if they are on.

From this screen one can adjust the volume which will bring up the Volume Settings, showing the current setting. From this or any other screen, press the button on the bottom left to be taken to the current category playlist. If set on random, it will show the random playlist rather than alphabetical. Navigate through these lists by pressing the Forward or Back arrows.

Aside from use, The M:Robe 100 has an internal lithion ion battery which is rechargeable by docking it or plugging it into a computer via USB cord. The site claims charge to last between 8 and 12 hours depending on media type. I can’t say for sure that this isn’t true but I suspect it does not last quite that long. Regardless, the charge is held for long enough that it’s never been any issue for me.

There you have it; the M:Robe 100 is a very easy to use MP3 player that looks great. So what are the drawbacks?

The software is clunky and takes a lot of resources while refusing to be intuitive. I would prefer if I could simply drag and drop. I don’t feel that M:Trip really helps to see what’s on the M:Robe.

On several occasions, this player has locked up and became really warm. The first time, I didn’t know what happened so I let it sit for a few days and it was fine. After that, I used the “Reset” button on the bottom of the player and everything was back to normal, without loss of my music.

I would also prefer if the M:Robe could be charged by plugging it into an electrical outlet, for travel. The USB cord can be connected directly from the player to a computer but if one is not available, this is no help and even if there is a computer, the charge is significantly decreased from that of using the dock. I suppose the dock could be used without a computer but that’s a lot of hardware to be carrying around.

I know some people had issues with the sound (which is excellent) being very quiet but a firmware update quickly resolved this. If anything, I don’t think the lowest setting is quiet enough to listen to, say, while falling asleep.

Lastly, the wait time between tracks is significant over similar MP3 players like the Ipod.

The M:Robe has lasted me between 2 and 3 years and still seems to be going relatively strong. It has become rather scratched up as players typically do because I do not use a case or cover. Also, I recently had a small metal piece break off on the inside. After it was banging around for a while, I opened it up and took it out. Luckily it wasn’t super necessary (it make the player fit more securely on the dock) and didn’t damage anything. However, since then, the button screen does not light up like it used to, unless I apply pressure. I can live with though; my hand knows where all the buttons are for sure!

If you need a basic MP3 player and can find something used, I’d recommend the M:Robe. If you need all the bells and whistles, skip right over this one folks. However, the M:robe 100 is probably difficult to find at this point as shortly after I bought it, stores took it off the shelves. I believe it’s successor, the M:Robe 500 is still for sale, though.

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