The M3 is unusual for digital audio players (DAPs) in that the main unit has no screen at all. All the screen info is only available on the remote. The main unit has limited controls, and if you have a playlist going (or are simply playing out of a folder) you can make it work. But there's no selecting songs without the remote. In exchange, the main unit is very small. See the next pic for a size comparison with my T|E (you can see I'm testing Fitaly!). In additional to its small size, the M3 is nearly silent. In a quiet room you can just hear the hard drive spin up, but if there's noise of any kind you can't hear it at all. I don't have much experience with other DAPs, but I think that the M3 is quieter than most.
Let me pause a moment and give a little technical info. The M3 has 20 gigs of storage. It connects via USB 2.0 and is very fast. It can play mp3, ogg, flac, wma, and wav (I think) files. It can read m3u playlists that you make in other programs. You cannot, however, make new m3u playlists with the remote, though you can add music into a "dynamic playlist" with the remote, but you cannot save this list when you are done. It has an FM tuner, built in microphone, and line in recording capacity. (Recorded files are encoded directly to mp3.) You can even record FM radio, though I have yet to figure out why you would want to do this. The firmware is continually updated. The latest includes a bookmarking capability, which is perfect for audio books. Actually the flac format was also a recent firmware addition and was not originally supported. Battery life is very good. It is reported to last 14 hours on a charge. I haven't timed it, but I have had no problems, and only charge every few days. Luckily it uses the same power connector as the T|E! The M3 does not organize music by ID3 tags as some players do. Instead it uses physical folders. Some find this a deal breaker, but this worked well for me. My music archive is organized by genre in my own folders, and many have faulty ID3 tags.
Cowon also offers a 40 gig version of the M3 and a 20 gig version, the M3L, with extended battery life : 35 hours!! Both of these are a bit thicker than the normal M3 and both are a bit harder to find.
The M3 came with a cradle and a portable adapter for power, line in, line out, and USB. There is only one proprietary connector at the bottom of the unit for data and power. This is a drawback to some, as you must carry the portable adapter around with you if you want to connect to other computers. I don't mind this so much, as I have a bag I carry all the time anyway. The cradle is simple but attractive (sorry no pic yet). The adapter is small and black.
Both the unit and the remote feel great to hold. The shell of the main unit is made of anodized aluminum and feels tough. It fits easily in a pocket and is hardly noticeable. The remote has a tough clip on the back and I mostly wear it on the inside of my pocket. The headphones connect through the remote. The M3 came with some decent looking ear buds, but I have not luck with those, and got rid of them immediately. I use some foldable Sony in-ear headphones with a head band (MDR-A35
) that are only $10-15 and they sound great.