Jack of All Trades!
PROS: Tiny Form Factor, Wearable, Feature Rich, Hardware Music Playback Controls for In-Pocket Access, Build Quality.
CONS: Limited User Experience, Entry-Level Sound Quality.
I would like to thank Fiio for providing the FiiO M5 DAP free of cost in exchange for a review.
Introduction, Packaging and Contents.
M5 is Fiio’s ultra-compact, entry-level, feature packed high-res music player which retails for $99. The main attraction of the M5 is the number of features it packs inside its tiny form factor. The M5 comes in a typical cardboard packaging that most $100-$500 range DAPs come in these days. Apart from the music player you get a clip-on case, a USB cable, 2 x screen protectors and some usual paperwork.
Hardware wise, M5 is an ultra compact and light weight device. The shell is aluminium, while the front and back are glass panels. The build quality and finish of the device are excellent. On the front, you have the display which occupies about 65% of the real estate. It would have been nice had Fiio managed to fit a larger display. On the top you have the headphone port, volume rocker and the power button. The volume rockers double as music skip buttons upon long presses. And the power button does triple duty depending on long press, short press and double press. Long press powers the device on and off, short press is to turn the screen on/off and double pressing acts as the Play/Pause button when music is playing. Now the device provides an option to swap the Screen On/Off and Play/Pause functionalities between the short press and double press options. I stuck to the default setting and got used to this in no time. When you enable the Bluetooth Receiver mode though, the device overrides the functionality and assigns the single click to Play/Pause and double click to Screen On/Off.
On the bottom you have a USB-C port and a micro-SD card slot, and the right and left sides of the device are void of any I/O ports. There is no onboard memory, but the device supports micro-SD card upto 2TB. One of the gripes I have about the hardware is, the placement of the headphone port right next to the volume rocker. Especially when you are using an IEM with L shaped or a thick 3.5mm plug, it makes it difficult to reach the volume down button. It would have been nice had Fiio moved the micro-SD card slot to one of the sides and placed the headphone port in the bottom. Fiio quotes a battery standby of 10Hrs and 13Hrs for wired and wireless music playback respectively. I couldn’t verify this accurately. With my mixed usage, I was getting roughly ~10Hrs, which is not great but not bad either for a device of this size.
User Interface and User Experience.
On turning the device ON, you land on the home page, which is basically a carousel of menu options: Now Playing, Browse Files, Categories, Bluetooth Receiver, Voice Recorder, Settings, Step Counter. You swipe left or right to roll through the menu options. Swiping right from the left edge of the screen is the Back action. The Now Playing screen has the buttons to Play/Pause and Skip tracks and a few other options. Swiping left on the Now Playing screen gives you the seek bar. If you are outside the Now Playing screen, you can swipe down from the top, which has a Now Playing section with Play/Pause and Skip buttons. Clicking on the section takes you to the Now Playing screen. So going to the Now Playing screen is simply a swipe and touch from anywhere in the menu.
If you are inside any of the menus, there is a home icon displayed on the top left corner of the screen. Clicking on it takes you to the Home screen. I would have liked it if there was an option to hide the main menu options like on the Sandisk music players. The software itself is decently snappy and the screen is responsive enough. While it is not on the same level as current generation smartphones, it’s as good as the current generation DAPs. When you make a device physically this small, there are going to compromises on the UI/UX front and the M5 is no exception. So you could end up fat fingering every now and then, and navigating to certain menu options can take at least a handful of swipes and touches. For the same reason, browsing through a long list of music files or folders can also be tiring. User Experience is definitely something that leaves me wanting more when it comes to the M5.
Please Note: If you receive your device running the FW V1.1, I highly encourage you to download the latest FW from this page and install it. This FW update brings about some welcome changes, such as; turning the clock face screen off when waking the device and turning the screen on by double tap or lifting the device.