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Great Grown-up Gadgets

An open letter to Santa lists the best in electronic gifts for adults
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

(continued from page 3)

The heart of the system is a base station with its own 40-gigabyte hard drive (enough to store up to 750 CDs' worth of music). The unit can convert CDs into digital MP3 files automatically (no computer required), identifying the tracks and cataloguing your collection. You can listen on the base station, or set up wireless music stations throughout the house (up to four satellite players are supported) and fill your home with music. Each room can play the same songs (nice when entertaining) or different selections (handy if your child thinks Eminem is a musical genius). The networking uglies are all handled by the system and, since it doesn't have to interface with your existing computers or tap into the Internet, setup is a straightforward plug-and-play affair. A computer connection (Windows or Macintosh) is available if you want to back up your music files or update the Music System software, but you can safely ignore this step for months at a time and still have a perfectly satisfying experience (you will probably want to connect at least occasionally to refresh the database that identifies songs on the CDs you convert to MP3, though Philips promises to provide these updates via CD-ROM four times a year). If you choose, you can also play songs stored on your computer through the Philips system, but the built-in hard drive probably has enough capacity to satisfy most music lovers.

The basic system includes both the base station and a single satellite unit, with additional satellites sold separately. As for sound quality, both the base station and satellites use flat-panel speakers that perform very respectably, with a clear, clean high-end and robust bass performance.

Basic system $999, additional remote units $299, or 888-744-5477

T-Mobile MDA
The problem with most so-called "smart" phones is their dumb size. Yes, I want all the cool capabilities they can pack in, but I need a phone that fits in my pants pocket, not my backpack. That's why I've always carried a separate cell phone and PDA. After playing with this lovely compact device, though, it may be time for me to take a more unified approach to juggling calls and data.

T-Mobile's new MDA device weighs just 5.29 ounces and measures 4.3 x 2.3 inches—it reminded me of carrying a deck of cards. There's lot of power built into that petite package, though, especially for self-confessed e-mail addicts. The MDA runs the latest Windows Mobile 5.0 software, an artful combination of work- and play-related functions. On the business side you get pocket versions of all the major Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, even PowerPoint), and unlike previous editions, all your formatting changes move back and forth seamlessly between the handheld and your PC. On the fun side, you can transfer music and even video files to the device (a handy slot accepts additional memory cards), play games (there's a portable version of Scrabble that creams me on all but the easiest setting), and take snapshots with a 1.3-megapixel camera that's no better and no worse than the competition. And it's all shown on a bright 2.8-inch display that reproduces more than 65,000 colors (your digital photos never looked better).

Communication is the key reason for carrying the MDA, of course, and it works very well indeed for both voice and text. Since all your contact info is automatically synchronized between your Windows computer and the MDA, dialing is a simple screen-click operation. For text, the top of the device slides back to reveal a very usable little QWERTY keyboard—the letter spacing and layout is far superior to the Treo and BlackBerry devices. Equally important, the screen display can flip easily from lengthwise to width-wise orientation. When you're typing out an e-mail, working on a spreadsheet or surfing the Web, you can flip the screen display 90 degrees for full-length lines, and when you're perusing to-do lists or browsing your address book, you can flip it back to standard notepad orientation.

Finally, you get three flavors of built-in wireless connectivity: a cell phone (which works for voice and online data, albeit at moderate speed), Wi-Fi networking (it works great at your local Starbucks or other wireless hot spot) and Bluetooth for using wireless headsets or keyboards.

$400, or 800-766-2453

Sirius S50
When I wrote about satellite radio here earlier this year, XM had a decided competitive edge when it came to delivering slick, upscale receivers. In the intervening months, however, Sirius has made serious strides in this area, whittling down the size of its radios while improving their features and information display. The flagship product for the new sexy Sirius is its S50 radio, a beautifully crafted piece of equipment boasting a bright color screen and some intriguing capabilities under the hood.

The S50 is a hybrid device. To receive live satellite radio programming it has to sit in a docking cradle—these are available for both in-car and in-home use. As you listen, though, the device records your favorite programs—up to 50 hours worth of audio can be stored in the 1-gigabyte internal memory. That means you can leave the radio on, store a huge selection of audio in the memory buffer, and listen to this recorded content on the small handheld unit on the road. And, at 3.9'' x 1.9" x 0.7", this is a perfectly portable little player to take along. You can also schedule recordings, so if you can't live without your daily dose of Howard Stern (he debuts on Sirius in January), you'll be able to set up automatic daily recording and listen at your leisure.

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