BenQ Joybee 125 (256MB, silver)
With its subtle design and tiny form factor, the BenQ Joybee 125 ($130) is all about no-nonsense MP3 playback. While the 256MB version offers only half the storage of similarly priced flash players, a few key extras make it a contender.
With dimensions that mimic a pack of gum's, the BenQ Joybee 125 weighs less than one ounce and can easily fit in a cramped shirt pocket or around your neck with the included strap. It also does a great job of pulling double duty as a portable storage device. A retractable USB port allows the Joybee 125 to appear as a drive letter on any USB-enabled PC without requiring extra cables or software. Unfortunately, the player supports only the USB 1.1 standard. Those that plan on transferring a lot of data may want to spend a little more on a USB 2.0 device, most of which offer three times the data-transfer speed of any USB 1.1 device.
Even when considering the Joybee 125's diminutive form factor, we found its interface to be heavy-handed. Simple adjustments, such as the volume setting, require you to go through the player's menu system, manually change the volume level, and finally confirm the change by hitting the play button again. Even monitoring the Joybee's remaining battery life requires a needless foray through the interface. Luckily, the unit's LCD presents text that's clear and easy to read, and its long-forward and long-rewind buttons make it easy to navigate through songs when on the go.
When using the player's bundled software, you can dictate the order songs that are loaded--a step up from several other flash-based units that play files only alphabetically. If you want to switch your playlist, however, you have to overwrite all the files loaded in the device. All song are also loaded into the same folder, meaning there's no way to create ad-hoc playlists by way of subfolder organization.
The BenQ Joybee 125 offers a few surprising extras for an MP3 player in this price range, though they show its bargain-minded ways. The unit's FM reception is surprisingly loud and clear for an item of this size, but it doesn't support radio presets. Going from one station to the next requires lengthy scroll time. The player can also make external recordings with its embedded microphone as well as internally record any FM radio broadcast. Unfortunately, the player can save recordings only as WAV files at extremely low sample rates, making it tough to listen to anything beyond basic voice memos.
With its 86dB signal-to-noise ratio, the Joybee 125 provides consistently strong MP3 and WMA playback. Overall audio quality is bright and clear--assuming you invest in some higher-quality headphones rather than the basic earbuds that come with the player. In CNET Labs' tests, the Joybee's rechargeable battery lasted 10.8 hours, which is a little more than the manufacturer's claim. We're surprised a player of this size doesn't offer better battery life, however. For instance, the similarly priced Creative MuVo Micro N200 kicked out the jams for nearly twice as long in our tests. Finally, the Joybee 125 outpaced most USB 1.1 players in our data-transfer tests, receiving song files at an average of 0.61MB per second.