At about the size and weight of a matchbox, the BenQ Joybee 120 ($100) offers plenty of style and solid MP3 playback. The 128MB flash player (also available in 256MB models) manages to squeeze in several handy features, including an FM radio and voice-recording capabilities. The unit's limited LCD and time-consuming navigation may make it a little tricky to access those features, but this inexpensive player could be a perfect match for bargain hunters looking for extreme portability and an eye-catching design. The Joybee 120 cuts a fine figure with its showy green-chrome finish (it's also available in silver and orange). The player's small size also makes a big impression. Measuring 2.2 by 0.5 by 1.5 inches and weighing less than an ounce, the player can easily fit in a jeans pocket with room to spare.
Unfortunately, the Joybee 120's pint-size design necessitates the sacrifice of some functionality. You won't find any scrollwheels or toggle sticks; instead, five Tic Tac-size buttons (for fast forward, rewind, play/pause, A/B, and menu/power) along the top of the BenQ handle all the player's functions. Not surprisingly, accessing those buttons while on the move is extremely tricky. Even when you're at a standstill, navigation can be troublesome. Plus, the device suffers from a noticeable lag during track scrolling, so finding a particular song in a long list seems to take an eternity, while scanning through the entire FM band takes several minutes.
The minute BenQ has an even tinier LCD. During playback, only core track data (song length and time elapsed) is displayed. You must switch to secondary screens to view such important information as remaining battery life or the current EQ setting. A bigger no-no is the fact that the volume control requires a time-consuming foray into the player's menu system, which could rattle your eardrums when Led Zeppelin unexpectedly roars to life. The included earbud headphones offer lanyard-based volume control, but we suspect most audiophiles will swap out the 'phones for a better set.
Ironically, the Joybee 120's cumbersome navigation handles complex settings more intuitively. For example, we had little trouble accessing the voice-recording and playlist features. As with many MP3 players that support USB 1.1, the Joybee 120 appears as a removable drive in Windows without drivers (Mac users are out of luck), which makes file transfer a simple drag-and-drop affair. While the player supports subdirectories, files play back in alphabetical order by default. Luckily, the Joybee is bundled with BenQ's Qmusic software, a simple utility that makes it easy to create playlists. The app can also tackle basic MP3-ripping and file-management duties, as well as audio CD burning.
Along with MP3 and WMA playback, the player features an FM radio. The reception is acceptable, but there's only a single station preset (as opposed to 10 or more with other players we've tested). The Joybee 120 also offers radio and voice recording--rare in a player this small. However, there's no line-in recording, and the voice recordings use extremely low sampling rates, making the device suitable for voice memos only.
The player offers four repeat modes, including random and A-B repeat. You can tweak the sound of your tunes with the seven EQ settings, but there's no user-definable equalization. Considering the significant differences between the presets, the ability to fine-tune the settings would have been helpful.
BenQ also includes several helpful accessories to round out the package. Along with all the necessary cables and software, there's an unusually sturdy neck strap and belt clip as well as a handy carrying case, which can hold the player and all its accoutrements. While the Joybee 120's overall audio quality is solid, thanks in part to its 92dB signal-to-noise ratio, its maximum volume might not be loud enough for some listeners. At just 5mW per channel, the player can't touch the sonic power of the Apple iPod, which rocks out at 30mW per channel. Even similar flash-memory MP3 players such as the Creative Rhomba offer twice the wattage.
In our CNET Labs testing, the Joybee 120's lithium-ion rechargeable battery kept the music coming for more than 16 hours, which is slightly better than average for flash MP3 players in this price range.
The player also fared well in our data-transfer tests, loading MP3 files at an average rate of 0.58MB per second.