Mcody's M20 is a really slim, flash-based MP3 player, which at £69 for the 2GB version, is pretty affordable.
We're all used to nice bright colour screens on our MP3 players these days, so why should this model, with its tiny black and white screen, steal your heart? The truth is it might not. But it may very well be cute enough to win a place in your jeans pocket, despite its navigational flaws.
The M20 feels as light as it looks. It weighs about the same as a bag of crisps, and looks just as edible. It's a stylish, ultra-slim player that'll give minimalists a treat for both the eyes and fingers. The only downside to this slender design is that the player is permanently weighed down to one side by the headphone cable. We wish Mcody had set this socket into the top of the player to avoid this annoying characteristic.
Mcody has adopted the design aesthetic of Samsung's YP-K3, in that all the navigation buttons are touch-sensitive and invisible until touched. They can all be discovered by rolling a finger (providing it's connected to a living body) over the surface of the player. The buttons come to life with a furious red glow, and fade away shortly after you finish touching them. The only other button is a play/pause control, stuck oddly on the right-hand side of the device.
The minimalist M20 manages to pack some audio niceties into its tiny casing. We're pleased to see that along with support for MP3, WMA format music and Microsoft's DRM technology, the M20 supports music encoded into the open-source OGG format. There's no FLAC support but one out of two ain't bad, so we're not complaining. There's also a curious feature that allows you to speed up any MP3 track to as much as 150 per cent. Why, we have no idea, but it'll appeal to the kids if nothing else.
The black and white screen doesn't allow for photo support but it will -- albeit painfully -- display text files. Text size is large and restricted to just four lines on screen at once. Formatting is discarded and words are even split in half on to two lines in many cases. We can't think of a single practical use for this feature. In fact, we're barely comfortable calling it a feature as it adds nothing to the player.
There's a microphone inside the M20 that's perfect for recording voices. Also, using the supplied cable, it's possible to record CD-quality audio directly to the player's memory from any source that has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. We got great results recording tracks from our iPod and from a television. The downside to this feature is that music is saved into the uncompressed WAV format, meaning that quality is going to cost you in megabytes. Lots of megabytes.
An FM radio is conveniently built into the player and although the auto-seek function is hopeless at finding more than one station, manually tuning to known frequencies is effective. It's a little slow to use but once locked on to a station the quality is excellent.
Transferring our 1.5GB test library of MP3s took a staggering 51 minutes -- over twice as long as the 22 minutes it took to transfer the same library to Sony's NW-A808. This won't matter if you don't often update your library but we had to leave ours over lunch until we could move on with our testing. That's something we're not used to. It was, however, kind enough to charge its battery over USB, which is nice considering there's no mains adaptor.
The player is small and the touch-sensitive control pad is smaller still, and very, very sensitive. It's incredibly easy to press the wrong button and with the menu button sitting in the centre, we found our average-sized fingers accidentally hitting it by mistake. A little practice does help eventually, though.
Navigating the music library is also tricky. Clicking on the 'music' menu option simply plays your entire collection from top to bottom, with albums sorted in alphabetical order. The most direct way to navigate through the music is to use the 'navigation' option. This presents a cluttered list of artists, albums and track names sorted in a folder tree. You also need to switch from using the central 'M' navigational button for selecting, to pressing the left and right arrow buttons to open or close folder options.
Once music had been transferred and we got the hang of the navigation system, we found that the M20's playback performance was on par with more expensive models. Bass reproduction on the bass-heavy track Slam by Pendulum was full and well driven. Mid-range sound on American Girls by Counting Crows was clear and bright, and the high-range classical melodies of the operatic classic Naturaleza Muerta, performed by Sarah Brightman, were sharp and full-bodied.
It almost goes without saying that stock headphones are never up to much, and the bundled pair supplied with the M20 is no exception. You'll probably want to find yourself a better pair, such as the Shure E4cs, if audio quality is your top priority.
We managed to pull 12 hours of continuous playback from a single charge. This is lower than many contenders in the flash MP3 player market, but will suffice for casual listeners and commuters.
Fans of live albums may need to bypass the M20 as there's no gapless playback support. You'll find the half-second gap between tracks will compromise your listening experience.
The Mcody M20 is an affordable and stylish MP3 player but its convenient size and weight is countered by an unintuitive menu system, small controls, poor screen and sub-par battery life.
This is definitely not a player to give to a child or to buy for yourself if you're looking for something easy to use. If you're after a good-looking, reasonably cheap way to carry a couple of hundred songs to and from work and you don't fancy the iPod Shuffle, maybe throw the M20 a glance, but don't forget you get what you pay for. It's available now from advancedmp3players.co.uk.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield