Mobile Computing: Cool Gadgets for Hot Weather

By now, we're all tired of the heat. Since I don't know any of you well enough to hose you down, I'll offer relief in a different way--a guide to what's cool right now in portable gadgets.

Sony Ericsson's Music Phone

Combining an MP3 player with a cell phone isn't new--but it is cool. Sony Ericsson's W810, its latest Walkman phone, offers one of the best MP3/cell phone mash-ups yet, says PC World reviewer Liane Cassavoy. She gives the W810 a PCW rating of 80 (very good).

After turning on the device, you can choose between launching just the Walkman music player or all of the phone's features. The W810 also includes a 2-megapixel camera and an FM radio.

There are some downsides: The feature-packed handset lacks dedicated Send and End phone buttons; holding the boxy candy-bar-style phone can be uncomfortable during long conversations; and an unlocked version costs $499. Cingular was expected to offer a version of the phone for less but hadn't announced pricing as of this writing.

Creative's Zen V Plus

Apple's iPod Nano isn't the only cool, flash-memory-based media player out there.

Consider Creative's ultra-compact Zen V Plus, for example, which offers impressive audio quality. It has an FM tuner, a five-band equalizer for tweaking audio, and line-in encoding for recording directly from a CD player or another source. It can play video, but its 1.5-inch screen makes viewing for longer than a minute or two uncomfortable. It's available in 1GB ($199), 2GB ($269), and 4GB ($329) models.

PC World reviewer Eric Dahl awarded the Zen V Plus a PCW rating of 81 (very good).

Caretools' Inflight Power Charger

Didn't get a chance to recharge your cell phone before stepping on the plane? Not a problem. Inflight Power from Caretools is a small gadget that lets you recharge cell phones and portable media and game players using the passenger-seat headphone jacks on planes, buses, and trains. The device converts the audio output from these jacks into power for portables, according to Caretools' Web site--though I haven't had a chance to test the gadget.

A basic Inflight Power charger that costs $35 works with any device that can be recharged using a standard USB cable. Bundles that include Inflight Power with tips for Apple iPods or Research in Motion BlackBerrys are $45 each.

Franklin's Dictionary & MP3 Player

Franklin's new Merriam-Webster Dictionary & MP3 Player might seem too academic to be cool. But this compact electronic dictionary has 274,000 definitions from Merriam-Webster, plus the ability to play MP3 files like podcasts, audio books, and rockin' tunes. You can transfer songs by copying them from your PC to a Secure Digital card and then to the device via its SD card slot, or by connecting the device to your PC via USB.

The gadget's audio quality is good, but I do have one complaint: The keys emit an annoying chirp when touched, so using it in an otherwise quiet library may elicit stares. A Franklin spokesperson said that the chirping occurred in an early version of the device and has been eliminated in currently shipping units. One other thing: At $100, this is one pricey dictionary. Still, the Dictionary & MP3 Player is a cool gadget for those hours spent in a library.

Pure Digital's Pocket-Sized Camcorder

Pure Digital Technologies recently released a digital camcorder that's almost as compact as a cell phone but offers better video quality than camera phones do.

The Pure Digital Point and Shoot Video Camcorder ($130) stores video in 512MB of internal memory instead of on tapes or discs; it's extremely easy to use; it shoots up to 30 minutes of video at any given time; and it connects to your PC via USB so you can quickly e-mail or edit your masterpiece. Also, the video resolution is 640 by 480 pixels, compared to 352 by 288 for video taken by a Palm Treo 650 or 700p.

You can connect the Pure Digital camcorder to a TV for large-screen playback. A couple of drawbacks: There's no flash or zoom; and though its video quality is good, you should look elsewhere if you need really crisp images. But if all you want is some quick video clips and an easy way to share them, this may be the camcorder for you. The camcorder is available from Target.com.

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