The MC Square X1 is a brain-stimulating handheld device designed to ease stress, improve memory, enhance concentration, and promote better sleeping patterns through the use of audio and visual cues; in other words, it's an MP3 player with a funky-looking visor. Although the smooth audio tracks definitely put one in a laid-back mind-set, we don't think the MC Square X1 gives your mind an edge or is worth the hefty $399 price tag.
How the MC Square X1 Works
The device consists of two pieces: a black, 3.5-ounce digital audio player, and a visor with plugs that connect to the MC Square X1's audio and visual jacks. The device delivers six nonintrusive beeping patterns intended to stimulate different cognitive areas (concentration, relaxation, learning, language, energizer, sleeping) as you listen to six natural sounds (Woods, Surf, Rain, Brook, Dolphin, White Noise). It then sends corresponding pulsating lights into LEDs in the visor, which you can see through closed eyelids. Donning the visor, we couldn't help but recall a certain sight-impaired engineer from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Comfy, but Confusing Design
We found both the rubber-tipped earbuds and visor comfortable to wear, which is important because the programs can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the program you select. The headset was lightweight, but we didn't like all of the cords hanging from it. Controlling the device wasn't easy. The nine touch-sensitive keys used to navigate menus are just too many for the 3.5 x 2.5 x 0.6-inch device; getting accustomed to the layout took us close to an hour. The small 1.3-inch color display (with 160 x 128-pixel resolution) compounded the problem, since the presented information appears jumbled.
Are We Smarter Yet?
We put the brain-enhancing claims of the MC Square X1 to the test by firing up the Nintendo DS' Brain Age. The game's Word Memory challenge gave us two minutes to memorize and then identify 20 four-letter words. Initially, we were able to recall, on average, nine words; after five days of "training" with the MC Square X1 for half an hour a day, we averaged 11 words. Given that Brain Age isn't exactly a proven IQ booster, we'll take those results with a grain of salt.
Perfect for Unwinding (Alone)
The one thing we're positive that the MC Square X1 can do is relax the mind. Even without the visor providing pulsating lights, simply listening to the sounds of nature was nearly enough to put us to sleep within minutes.
We liked that we could import our own MP3 and WMA files, but the MC Square's paltry 512MB of storage means you'll need to spring for a miniSD Card if you want to tote a decent amount of tunes. You can also feed music from external audio sources into the auxiliary port and take notes with the built-in voice recorder. And, as with some other players, you can import JPEG images and even text files, but the tiny screen isn't really conducive to viewing them.
Ultimately, the MC Square X1 is a device in need of a purpose; users have no way of knowing if it indeed makes you smarter, and a $20 nature sounds CD would probably do the job just as well. We like the idea behind the device, but we'd rather load up an iPod nano with our favorite soothing tunes than have to contend with a terminally unhip headset and visor.
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