The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 dispenses with the tried-and-true, rectangular box shape of most point-and-shoot digital cameras, going instead with a twist-and-turn design that evokes the aesthetics of mid-1980s Transformers. The M1's brushed-black-metal surface feels good in your hand, and at 7.5 ounces with battery and media installed, the camera is hefty enough to not feel cheap but light enough that it won't tire you out during longer shoots. One of the M1's quirky charms is its one-handed grip design, a configuration that borrows from compact MiniDV camcorders and allows for some novel shooting angles. Though there's no optical viewfinder, the big, bright 2.5-inch LCD screen rotates 360 degrees, allowing you to compose everything from self-portraits to upside-down macro shots.
Sony has given movie capture equal footing with photo capture on the device's main control area, so there are separate shutter buttons for each function, both within reach of your thumb; two additional shutters can be found to the left of the LCD screen, for convenient snapping when the screen is facing away from the main buttons.
We're glad that Sony avoided the confusing 3D menu that comes with its camcorders, instead going with a simple lineup of settings that you can deftly tweak using the four-way selector at the bottom of the camera's grip. Unfortunately, the bundled Picture Package software is underpowered and amateurish, making downloading and working with movies and stills a chore.
Though it lacks manual aperture and shutter-priority modes, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 does offer a respectable array of consumer-targeted features. In addition to taking straight 30fps, VGA-quality (640x480) MPEG-4 videos, the M1 also incorporates a hybrid video mode that uses the camera's recording buffer to store five seconds of video before and three seconds after any image you take, giving you additional context for particularly important shots. You can play the MPEG-4 movies using QuickTime (we couldn't get it to work with Windows Media Player), and the nature of the MPEG-4 format--highly compressed with keyframes and differential frames--makes editing the movies both difficult and ill advised.
The collection of preset scene modes isn't exhaustive, though the M1's set of nine includes such standbys as Landscape, Fireworks, and High-Speed Shutter. A nice slate of manual focusing options rounds out the package, allowing you to select your own focal point if you don't want to let the M1's five-point autofocus do the work for you.