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Small Wonders

The PDA, smart phone, camera and MP3 player are pocket rockets that deliver a large charge
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004

Twenty years ago the coolest technology I owned sat in a particularly hideous glass-and-chrome stereo system wall unit. Ten years ago my show-off system was impressively perched on a faux wood-grain pressboard computer desk (there wasn’t much budget left after ponying up for that first blazing-fast Pentium processor). Now, finally, I can show off my favorite new tech toys without worrying about choosing appropriate furniture to enshrine them—the big winners for 2004 tuck neatly in my pants pocket. Americans may be getting larger by the minute, but the most exciting gear just keeps getting smaller. My entire music collection, several groaning shelves-worth of CDs, now goes everywhere with me wherever I go in a hard-drive MP3 player that weighs just a few ounces and fits in my pocket. My smart phone can do many of the jobs my desktop computer ordinarily handles, yet it nestles neatly in my suit jacket pocket. And while I still love the SLR camera I sling over my shoulder, it’s the brand new wafer-thin 5-megapixel digital, nonchalantly plucked from my top shirt pocket, that’s getting the major “ooohs” and “aaahs” from my technophile friends. Here, then, a dozen of today’s biggest hits in small-tech.

iRiver iHP-120

Going toe-to-toe with Apple in the digital music player business is a daunting proposition, but iRiver has come up with a viable contender, delivering several valuable features that are missing from the current-generation iPod. The tale of the tape shows iRiver matches iPod on height, width and weight (4.1", 2.4" and 5.6 oz., respectively), if not depth (0.75" versus iPod’s 0.62"). In practical terms, it’s a toss-up. The iHP-120 boasts a 20-gigabyte hard drive—not the largest on the market, but competitive with the iPod offering in the same price range—and, with a 600-hour music capacity, plenty big enough for all but the most obsessive music fans.

Where does the iRiver have a leg up? Start with a built-in FM radio, with up to 20 station presets for quick tuning and support for international broadcasting standards. Another key difference is battery life. The iRiver keeps pumping out the tunes for a solid 16 hours on a battery charge, whereas the iPod poops out at around eight hours.

Where the iHP-120 really shines, though, is recording capability. I’ve started using the device to record interviews and meetings through the built-in microphone or the included plug-in external mic, and the results are crystal clear. What’s more, it’s easy to transfer the files to my computer for playback, transcription and storage. And the iHP-120 can hold hundreds of hours of voice recordings at a time.

Recording isn’t limited to voice. Plug in a standard audio input, or even a digital optical cable, and you can record first-rate music files directly to the iHP-120. Save the results to compressed MP3 format or, if you expect to tweak them later on a computer, opt for the uncompressed WAV file format.

There are still a few rough edges in the iRiver package.  The control scheme is adequate, but nowhere near as polished as Apple’s elegant user interface. Transferring music to the device is drag-and-drop simple, but accessing track information (artist, album, genre, etc.) is buggy. And while you can play back lists of songs you’ve created on the computer (called playlists), you can’t create a list directly on the device,  the way you can with iPod. Still, the one-two-three combination of FM radio, lengthy battery life and extensive recording capability makes iRiver’s iHP-120 the right choice for many users.

$400, www.iriver.com or 800-399-1799

 

Rio Nitrus


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