The 500’s dashboard is unapologetically simple. In terms of LCD screens, that means a pair of monochromatic, single-line text displays are your lot, one located front and centre in the main dashboard, the other in the driver’s instrument cluster. Large, multi-function colour LCD panels are conspicuous by their absence. But that suits the 500 just fine.
What you do get is an audio system with pretty comprehensive MP3 and WMA playback. It starts with the obligatory dash-mounted CD drive with MP3 support. Where things get a little more interesting is the Windows Mobile-branded USB port located on the floor below the dash. This accepts a standard USB memory storage and supports browsing and playback of MP3 and WMA files stored via the PC- and Mac- compatible FAT32 file system.
Admittedly, the 500’s single-line displays are rather restrictive for navigating large music libraries. The fact that the system does not support playlists hardly helps either. Instead, you must organise your files such that a folder represents a playlist. But as long as you keep your expectations in check, it gets the job done well enough.
Courtesy of the Blue&Me interface, voice command is supported for key playback controls such as play, pause and track selection. However, the 500 also has a well configured set of steering wheel controls. Frankly, using these is quicker and simpler than barking out voice commands.
But what of the ever pressing question of iPod support? The short answer is yes, Blue&Me supports Apple’s epoch-defining media player. Just plug it into the Windows Mobile USB port and away you go – in theory, at least. In practice, there are several limitations which largely derive from the fact that Blue&Me is based on a Microsoft operating system.
First up, music stored on an iPod must be in MP3 format. AAC and MP4 files are not supported. Depending on the makeup of your iTunes library, these restrictions may or may not present a major irritation. But even if your music library is correctly formatted, you cannot access your iTunes playlists.
It’s exactly this sort of shortcoming that makes iPod support somewhat academic. Given the rock bottom prices of memory sticks today (and particularly if you plan on using the eco:Drive application, more on which in a moment) it’s easier and less frustrating to have a dedicated USB key for your 500. Moreover, Blue&Me does not currently support the iPod touch or iPhone (the latter is supported as a Bluetooth telephony device, however). These are problems Fiat could potentially address in future. Until then, there are some significant sticking points for Apple devotees.
As for the sound quality of the audio system, well, it neither delights nor offends. It’s a little short on real clout, subtlety or bass extension. But at this price point, it’s about as good as you could hope for.