Review of the Xonix 256MB MP3 Watch

Hands on Watch Reviews Tech

Xonix MP3 Watch

The Xonix 256 MB MP3 watch is essentially a simple quartz analog watch embedded inside a small and equally simple MP3 player on top of a 256MB USB storage device. Although the Xonix MP3 watch packs a fair amount of functionality into a single device (including the USB cable, tucked neatly away in the band), Xonix manages to keep both the size and the price very reasonable. If you’re really into watches, or you’re really into MP3s, I’ll warn you right from the beginning that the Xonix MP3 watch will seem like too much of a compromise in both respects. However, if you just need something that tells time, and you just happen to want to have a few of your favorite albums with you at all times, the Xonix MP3 watch could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Features of the Xonix 256 MB MP3 Watch

  • Built-in MP3 player. The Xonix also plays Windows Media Audio (WMA) files, and WAV files.
  • 256MB of storage. At least my model has 256MB. The capacity of Xonix MP3 watches ranges from 32MB to 256MB. (There’s a table below that shows how capacity actually relates to music quantity.)
  • Portable hard drive. The Xonix MP3 watch stores more than just MP3s. You can copy any file that will fit onto the Xonix and use it as a backup device.
  • Built-in voice recorder. There’s a microphone built in next to the headphone jack that allows you to record up to 18 hours of voice notes. Listen to this sample recording to get a better idea of the quality.
  • Simple analog quartz watch. It’s not fancy, but it does its job.
  • Multiple equalizer modes. Choose between pop, rock, jazz and classical.
  • Built-in 2.5mm headphone jack. You won’t be using your Bose QuietComfort headphones with this watch without an adapter, but 2.5mm is still a standard size, often used for things like phone headsets.
  • Built-in USB 1.1 jack. The Xonix MP3 watch actually has a short USB 1.1 cable and jack tucked into the rubber strap (the watch comes with a USB extension cable for less accessible USB ports). The USB cable is used for both recharging and data transfer.
  • Five hour battery. This is no exaggeration. I tested the battery and found it lasted almost exactly five hours. It takes about two hours to fully recharge.
  • Automatic power off. Stretch that five hours out as long as possible. When the MP3 player is paused, it will automatically shut off after two minutes. It will also shut off two minutes after all the tracks on the watch have played, just in case you’ve fallen asleep.
  • Upgradable firmware. Firmware is software that runs in read-only memory and usually manages specialized and relatively simple devices. As the name implies, it is somewhere between software and hardware. You want firmware to be upgradable so bugs can be fixed without having to replace the hardware. The process of upgrading the Xonix MP3 watch’s firmware is very simple.
  • Sequential and random modes. Either play tracks in order, or let the watch decide what track you hear next.
  • Simple file management. When you plug the watch in to your computer, it gets mounted just like an additional drive or volume (Mac) as though it were a digital camera or a portable memory card. Once the watch has been mounted as another drive or volume, just drag and drop or delete MP3s and other files from Windows Explorer or the Macintosh Finder. (After deleting files, be sure to empty your trash so that the files are actually removed.) You can also delete tracks and voice notes from the watch itself.

What’s Included

  • The Xonix 256 MB MP3 watch, of course. The case is both plastic and metal, the caseback is metal (with a cheat sheet reminding you of all the different modes, and how to get to them), the band is rubber, and the buckle is metal. The watch is not water resistant, and probably should not even be exposed to splashes.
  • USB extension cable. The watch has a short USB cable and jack built in, but depending on the location of the USB ports in your computer, the cable may be too short without the extension. The extension is 41 inches long, so it should easily solve most proximity issues for you.
  • Stereo headphones (earbuds, actually) with a 2.5mm jack. They plug right into the watch, and sound just fine to me.
  • Miniature CD containing the firmware upgrade utility and USB drivers. If you’re using Windows 98 or any operating system prior to Windows 98, you will need to install the USB drivers on the CD before you can connect the watch.
  • Replacement USB cable. The watch comes with a curious cable that seems to be a replacement for the USB cable connected to the watch. It’s about a 1.5 inch cable with a USB jack on one end, and a four-pin connector on the other, which I assume connects to the watch. It also comes with 6 tiny springs. There is nothing in the instructions about this cable, so just hope you never need it.
  • Quick start guide.
  • Instruction manual.

Putting the Xonix Through Its Paces

Honestly, I was skeptical about the Xonix MP3 watch at first. I was expecting a mediocre MP3 player grafted to a mediocre timepiece to form a bulky and mediocre hybrid. What I found, however, is that the Xonix MP3 watch is a perfectly capable device. It’s neither a Rolex nor an iPod, but it is not intended to compete with either. The intent of this watch is to combine two important elements of our lives — time and music — into a simple, convenient, and affordable new gadget.

I started playing with the watch for a few minutes before reading the instructions to see how far I could get with it — always a sure test of intuitiveness. I had to glance at the quick start guide a couple of times for hints, but I found I was successfully playing music from my wrist within just a few minutes. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the sound, as well, even with the included no-name earbuds. In fact, I could easily hear the background chatter and the clinks of cocktail glasses during sessions of live jazz, and the scratchy cracking of old vinyl used in DJ mixes. To fully understand and appreciate all of the Xonix’s capabilities, I did have to delve into the instructions further, but after gaining a little experience, I have no complaints regarding the watch’s usability.

I connected the Xonix MP3 watch to both an IBM ThinkPad running Windows XP Professional and a Macintosh PowerBook running OS X 10.3.6, and both machines immediately mounted the watch as a external storage device, although Windows had a hard time deciding whether it was a USB mass storage device, or a generic MP3 player. I don’t know which one it settled on, but either way, it worked fine. I was able to use the integrated USB cable for the ThinkPad which has its USB ports on the left, and I used the included USB extension cable with the PowerBook since the USB ports are in the back. I have a newer PowerBook that has the ports on the side like the IBM, and I found that with it, I did not need the extension cable. The integrated USB cable tends to add some bulk to the band, but it’s nice to know you can connect the watch anytime, anywhere without having to carry an additional cable with you.

The watch comes with three sample tracks obviously intended to demonstrate the MP3 player’s capabilities. Two of them I couldn’t identify, and one was a live version of “California Hotel” (somehow they managed to get the name this Eagles classic reversed). As expected, I was able to play the MP3s on my PowerBook from the watch, just as though it were an external USB drive or a dedicated MP3 player. I then started copying some albums over to the watch to test the capacity. I ran out of room while transferring a Dave Mathews album after already copying over entire albums from Coldplay, Portishead, Amad Jamal, and The Police for a total of 42 tracks, plus the three sample tracks. Although I typically encode MP3s at a higher bit rate than this watch can actually use (higher bit rates mean greater ranges of sound which you are likely to only notice with higher end stereo equipment), I think four or five albums are about what you can expect from the 256MB version (see below for more information on the Xonix MP3 watch’s capacity).

Copying the music from an external firewire drive to the watch via USB 1.1 was a little on the slow side (if you’re used to using firewire or USB 2.0 with your iPod, you may need to keep an open mind here), but since it was only four albums, it wasn’t horrible. Just play a little solitaire or check some sports scores while you wait.

After some real-world experience with this watch, I found the best way to use it is to activate the random track selection feature and put the watch in charge of your listening itinerary since scrolling through individual tracks one at time with no visual cues to let you know where you are is a little cumbersome (the watch actually has a memory of its random selection, so you can scroll forward and backward through the randomly generated play list). Due to the limitations of the interface, I actually think 256MB is about as much room as you would want with something like this. Maybe 512MB, but once you hit 1GB, 5GB, etc., the capacity of the watch will have grown beyond the interface’s ability to manage it. (Here’s a hint for Xonix: future versions should have the ability to scroll through albums in addition to just tracks — that alone would be a huge usability boost.)

I found the watch to be fairly comfortable to wear, if a little on the long side. The headphone cord has enough length that even with my long arms, I wasn’t yanking the ear-buds out of my head whenever I stretched or reached for a cup of coffee. I even found that the headphone cord could be easily threaded through a shirt sleeve to keep it nice and inconspicuous (just don’t try to board a plane that way). The USB cable, microphone, headphone jack and MP3 capabilities in general are concealed well enough that girls probably won’t roll their eyes at you at parties if they catch a glimpse of your Xonix while you’re feeding them lines. On the other hand, don’t expect it to attract attention from across the room, either. Although the Xonix is not bad looking, the only people it’s likely to actually lure into a conversation are geeks who recognize it from pictures online. The only real complaint I have (keeping in mind the Xonix MP3 watch is in no way, shape, or form a luxury timepiece), is that it could use one more loop to keep the excess band from flapping. The one that it does have doesn’t move down far enough because its primary job is to secure and conceal the USB connector.

The Bottom Line

If you’re an MP3 junky, don’t sell your iPod or Archos Gmini to buy the Xonix, and if you require a highly reliable, accurate, and durable timepiece, the Xonix MP3 watch is probably not for you. However, as a supplement to your existing MP3 solution, or even as a complete solution for those with modest MP3 ambitions, the Xonix MP3 watch can save you the burden of lugging around an additional device. Waiting in line at the Hair Cuttery? Why not kill some time by listening to a few of your favorite tracks? Sitting in your doctor’s waiting room surrounded by Car and Driver magazines you’ve already read? Drown out the easy listening compilation with your own secret stash of sounds. The Xonix MP3 watch means never being caught without something to listen to again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you transfer files on to the Xonix MP3 watch?

Simply connect the watch to your PC or Mac via the integrated USB cable, and drag and drop your MP3 files onto the watch. No additional software is required.

Will music in subdirectories get played, or do I need to put all my MP3s in the root directory of the watch?

Music in subdirectories will be found and played. I created a top-level directory for the artist (Coldplay), then a subdirectory for the album (A Rush Of Blood to the Head), and put the actual MP3s in the album directory. Worked perfectly.

What music file formats does the Xonix support?

MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio), and WAV files.

Can I store files other than MP3s (and other supported music file formats) on this watch?

Yes, as long as there’s space. When looking for files to play, it will simply skip over file formats that it does not recognize as playable. That means the Xonix MP3 watch is also a handy USB storage device.

How much music can I fit on the Xonix MP3 watch?

I was able to fit four albums totaling 45 tracks. The chart below will give you a general idea based on capacity (assuming a 128 kbps bit rate):

Size (MB)Time (min)
3230
6460
128120
256240

How many voice recordings can I fit on the watch?

Short answer: a ton. Long answer: see the chart below:

Size (MB)Time (hours)
322
644.5
1289
25618

Is this watch waterproof?

No. This is in no way to be confused with a sports watch. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to get caught in a heavy rain wearing it.

Can I use my favorite headphones with this watch?

Yes, but you will probably need an adapter (not included). The headphone jack built in to the watch is 2.5mm and your favorite headphones are probably 3.5mm.

Do the MP3 player and the quartz watch share the same rechargeable battery?

No, they use separate batteries which means you can completely deplete the MP3 player’s battery without affecting the watch. I assume the watch uses a standard watch battery which any competent jeweler can replace, though the manual does not specify the model.

How accurate is the watch?

This is not a racing, diving, or professional flight watch, so don’t expect great things from the quartz movement. I didn’t conduct a painstaking test since accuracy is not really a selling point of the Xonix MP3 watch, but I found that seems to gain about a second a day.

Xonix claims the battery life is 5 hours on this thing. What’s the real battery life?

My tests showed the battery life to be almost exactly 5 hours. Actually, slightly more. Perfect for a coast to coast flight. I would expect this to decrease gradually over time, but even so, I think it is well within the range of acceptable.

How does the watch recharge, and how long does it take?

It recharges while connected to your computer via USB. You can also buy a wall charger if you plan to be away from your computer for an extended period of time. Recharge time is about 2 hours.

How is the quality of the voice recordings?

Somewhat low, but definitely sufficient. The tradeoff is that the 256MB version of the Xonix MP3 watch can record up to 18 hours of voice notes. Listen to this sample to get a better feel for the quality.

Can I back voice recordings up, or copy them off the watch to make room for more?

Yes. The Xonix MP3 watch creates one WAV file in the “VOICE” directory for each voice memo you create. When the watch is connected to you computer, you can do anything you want with those files.

Is there a random mode?

Yes. In fact, since the watch does not have much of an interface for navigating through tracks and albums, I think listening to randomly selected tracks is the best way to use the watch.

How does the equalizer work?

There are 4 predefined sound configurations: pop, rock, jazz, and classical. Use the mode button while an MP3 is playing to select the most appropriate mode. Little lights on the left side of the watch will indicate which mode is selected.

What operating systems is the Xonix MP3 watch compatible with?

It is compatible with both Mac and PC operating systems, though I only tested it with Windows XP Professional and OS X 10.3.6. If you’re using Windows 98 or earlier, you will need to install USB drivers from the included CD.

Is the watch’s firmware upgradable?

Yes. Mine came with the most recent firmware version, but I installed and ran the update utility anyway, and it looks like it should work just fine.

How is the sound quality?

Very good, in my opinion, though I can’t really convey the quality in quantitative terms. I guess the safest thing for me to say is that the sound quality is definitely not bad, and to my ears, quite impressive.

Why does it appear that the watch is out of space when I’ve deleted everything on it?

Try emptying your trash or recycling bin while the watch is connected. Otherwise, the files are just marked for deletion, but they aren’t actually deleted. This is behavior we generally appreciate on large hard drives, but doesn’t work so well on small capacity removable media. This has nothing to do with the watch, but rather is a function of the operating system.

How much does the Xonix MP3 watch cost?

About $120 for the 256MB version, and maybe around $90 for the 128MB.

By Christian Cantrell

1 Comment

  1. hi sir, i just want to ask where i can buy a battery of xonix mp3/voice recording watch 256mb because the mp3 and charging does not work…

    Reply

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