We test the best portable gadgets for the streetwise
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005
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$1,598 and up, depending on configuration; 11. 3" x 7.7" x 1.0", 2.5 lbs.; dell.com or 800-545-3813
The knee-jerk reaction today when you think of an MP3 player is iPod, but it's worth pausing for a moment before reaching for your credit card to consider other options. This seriously stylish 5-gigabyte player from iRiver, for example, offers several features not found on Apple's similarly sized iPod Mini.
The brilliant color screen is the most obvious example. Why a color screen for listening to music? Because it's so much easier to read than an ordinary monochrome LCD display, especially in dark environments. Choosing your tunes isn't the only screen function—you can also display digital photo files on the H10 screen. True, it's not the perfect tool for perusing panoramic vistas, but the 1.5-inch LCD is a fun way to browse family photos while in transit.
The built-in FM radio is another noteworthy feature included in the H10 and missing on the iPod. While sweating to the beat is not my idea of a good time, my athletically inclined friends are pumped to listen to the FM broadcast of TV sound at their neighborhood gym with the H10.
For me, though, the key feature is compatibility with Napster To Go, the online music subscription service. Instead of buying individual songs for 99 cents each, you pay a flat fee of $15 a month and get all-you-can-eat access to roughly a million songs. This is a useful service when you're sitting at your computer listening to music, but it's the "To Go" part that really makes it sing. With an MP3 player that's compatible with the service (the H10 is one, others are listed at napster.com), you can download your subscription songs onto the player and take them with you. Now when I read a review of an artist who sounds interesting, or I get a new-music tip from my college-age daughter, I can log onto Napster To Go, download some tracks and explore without actually having to buy an album sight unseen (or is that sound unheard?). Unlimited monthly music for the price of a single CD? As the ageless side of my brain would say: "That rocks!" $280; 3.8" x 2.2" x 0.6", 3.4 oz.; iriver.com or 800-399-1799
Philips Personal Sound System
You deserve a little pampering when setting up camp in a far-flung hotel room, and this ingenious updating of the classic AM/FM clock radio makes a fine take-along treat. In addition to an FM radio and alarm clock, the Personal Sound System offers MP3 playback, so you can be serenaded with your personal Top 40 while making last-minute changes to a PowerPoint presentation and wake up to your favorite tunes instead of the local shock jocks and country crooners. With 256 megabytes of built-in memory, you can store about four hours of high-quality MP3 music. A line-in cable jack makes it easy to pump your computer sound output through some decent speakers instead of the crummy built-in squawkers found on most laptops. It makes a big difference when whiling away the time playing DVDs or games on your computer.
Sound quality is impressive for a device this size, thanks to a pair of titanium drivers that reproduce crisp treble and a surprisingly convincing level of bass with enough volume to fill a small room and piss off the folks next door. The Personal Sound System can be plugged in, of course, or run off rechargeable batteries that last about 10 hours.
I've always preferred carrying my own clock radio on the road—it's so much easier than trying to figure out how to set the hotel-room model when you're bleary-eyed from airport delays and stressed out over waking up for a critical morning meeting. Now, thanks to the PSS, I combine this practical strategy with the pleasure of having Jane Monheit sing me awake in the morning.
$150; 7.7" x 2. 3" x 2.1", 12. 4 oz.; usa.philips.com or 888-744-5477
TomTom GO 700
For those of us who suffer from Directional Impairment, getting there is definitely not half the fun. That's why I'm a fan of the TomTom GO car navigation system, a complete GPS unit in an 11-ounce package that moves conveniently from car to car (and packs easily in a suitcase). The centerpiece of the TomTom GO product is its navigation software, which creates turn-by-turn directions based on your current position (read from overhead satellites) and the destination you enter using the touch-screen display. Maps are simple enough to follow at a glance, with a variety of views available (including a 3D perspective drawn from the driver's point of view that I find particularly helpful). You never really have to take your eyes off the road and look at the map, though, since there are also voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, spoken loud and clear through the built-in speaker. No GPS-based navigation system is perfect (there's a built-in fudge factor in the satellite information that can confuse the system on closely spaced parallel roads, for instance), but the TomTom system is as good as any I've tested, and never strays far from spot-on.
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