Now that you’ve got a high-speed Web connection, you have no reason not to use the Internet for long-distance calls. The Yap Phone ($59.99, J&R) is still your best – and coolest-looking – option. You can make clear-sounding computer-to-computer calls free (the person on the other end needs a Yap, too), or computer-to-regular-phone calls for about one cent a minute with the included $10 Yap Card (which uses the Net2Phone software and network).
Thank You for the Music, Part I
The SoundsGood digital-audio-player module ($269.99, www.good.com) for the Handspring Visor delivers your recommended daily allowance of Radiohead and lets you micromanage your schedule at the same time. Pop the 64MB flash module into the back of your PDA, and the screen automatically displays track info along with a set of virtual-control buttons – play, stop, fast-forward, etc. – scaled large enough for finger-tapping. The whole rig runs off the Visor’s AAA batteries with minimal power drain, ensuring about ten hours of quality listening time.
I Want My TiVo TV!
Personal video recorders are the latest VCR killers: Using digital technology, they let you do all sorts of absurdly cool things, like pause live television, get your own instant replays, and automatically scour electronic listings guides to record the shows you’re interested in (so you can instruct your PVR to record, say, every show or movie or talk show that George Clooney appears on this week). We like the Philips TiVo HDR312 ($349, J&R) because it comes with 30 hours of memory, a clean, easy-to-use interface, and an ultra-intuitive “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” rating system for programs that TiVo suggests you might be interested in (it extrapolates from your viewing patterns). We find it reassuring that in late September, AOL upped its stake in TiVo to 30 percent. Steve Case likes TiVo? Then we like TiVo.
The best-selling Olympus DS-150 digital voice recorder ($199.99, J&R) not only records your stray thoughts – stuff to add to your to-do list, notes on that corporate-reorg memo that’s due on Monday, assorted love sonnets – in crystal-clear digital format but also interfaces with the state-of-the-art IBM ViaVoice voice-recognition software that’s included. And thanks to its 160-minute recording capacity, you can feel free to ramble on.
Thank You for the Music, Part II
Whatever you’re putting in your iPaq design team’s drinking water, Compaq, keep it up. Following in the retro-future footsteps of the sleek iPaq Desktop PC and the Jetsonian iPaq Pocket PC, the iPaq PA-1 digital audio player ($249.99, J&R) is the cutest MP3 device on the market; its minimalist lines and brushed aluminum finish beg to be fondled. About the size of a pager, the PA-1 comes with a very generous 64MB of flash memory (about an hour of near-CD-quality music); USB plug-and-play installation is a breeze; and the bundled RioPort audio-manager software simplifies MP3 downloading and CD-ripping. It’s also programmed to handle, along with MP3’s, WMA (Windows Media Audio), AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), and Wham!’s Make It Big.
Weighing in at a mere 13.75 ounces – a little more than a can of Coke – the Canon Elura2 MC ($1,350, B&H Photo; $1,399, J&R) is shockingly small but gives you everything you need to become a digital filmmaker: an F/1.6-2.6 lens with power zoom (3.5-35-mm.), a built-in stereo mike, a 2.5-inch LCD screen, and outputs to both DV-ready computers and your TV or VCR. The MC model also lets you capture high-res stills and save them on a removable MultiMediaCard.
The Proton SRC-2000 ($179, J&R) remote gives you command of up to ten devices – your TV, CD, and DVD player, preamp, tuner, whatever – but unlike other universal-learning remotes, the Proton offers versatility without burdening you with a kitchen-sink approach to data entry. There are only eight buttons on the unit – the rest of the control comes via customizable buttons on the LCD touchscreen that vary according to which device you’re controlling at the moment. So if you don’t, for instance, have a satellite dish, you’ll never have to puzzle over a bunch of satellite-dish-specific keys just to get to the one button that’ll let you skip past a track on your new Björk CD.
Thank You for the Music, Part III
For sheer digital-audio versatility, no other MP3 player on the market compares with the new Iomega HipZip ($299.95, J&R). The biggest drawback with portable MP3 devices has been the high cost of adding additional flash memory: A 32MB upgrade costs around $80. The HipZip, by contrast, uses cheap, matchbook-size PocketZip disks ($10 for 40MB), each able to hold an entire CD’s tunes. The built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasts about twelve hours, and the high-end equalizer lets you custom-tune sound for different types of music. The HipZip even doubles as an ultraportable storage device for your PC or Mac files, so you can carry images, word documents, or any other type of data along with your favorite trance mixes.
The Targus Stowaway Portable Keyboard for the Visor ($99, CompUSA), a cleverly designed full-size folding keyboard, accordions down to about the size of the Visor itself and weighs just 7.9 ounces. Absolutely essential if you’re using your PDA for sending e-mail, taking notes, or just entering a bunch of contacts.
If you’re in the market for a digital camera, good luck: You’ll face a truly bewildering array of models. None jams as much photographic power into as small a package as Canon, with its PowerShot S100 ($599, J&R, B&H Photo, the Wiz). The first digital version of its wildly popular, diminutive Elph line of drop-and-load APS cameras, the PowerShot, not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes, has a 2.1-megapixel CCD, a 2x optical (4x digital) zoom lens, and a 1.5-inch LCD monitor so you can preview shots and delete them on the spot if they suck. The memory’s infinitely expandable with optional CompactFlash cards, and it can upload pics to both Macs and PCs.
The beautiful, lightweight (under ten pounds) Samsung SyncMaster 150MP ($1,049, J&R; $1,099, CompUSA) comes with a built-in TV tuner and P-I-P (picture-in-picture) capability, so you can watch all the bad news on MSNBC in one corner of your screen while simultaneously scrambling to connect to E*Trade so you can liquidate your stock portfolio.
The DVP-S570D DVD player ($599, the Wiz, J&R), with its cool brushed-aluminum face, is part of Sony’s Wega family of high-end products (there’s a pricey, equally cool-looking Wega big-screen TV to match), and it’s got everything you’d expect: built-in Dolby Digital Decoder, built-in DTS decoder for DVD video discs, a jog shuttle dial on the front panel, and a versatile, easy-to-use multibrand remote with phosphorescent keys. And it’s expandable, too, with “parental control” capabilities for an optional 200-disc DVD jukebox, should you decide you need to have your entire library of Keanu Reeves movies perpetually at the ready.
Even though the new Sony ZS-2000 personal stereo system ($299.99, J&R, the Wiz) is light enough to be totally portable, it dispenses with a handle since Sony’s designers know you’re just going to pull it out of the box, set it down on your desk, and never move it again anyway. They also added a sleek aluminum face, a wood case, and a cool front-loading tray that flips down and out to scoop up CDs (there’s an AM/FM tuner, a cassette deck, and a clock-timer, too). Best of all, the speaker grilles don’t have that obnoxious Gigantor look common to just about every other compact or portable stereo system on the market.
J&R Music and Computer World, 15-33 Park Row; 212-238-9000; jandr.com
The Wiz, 555 Fifth Avenue, near 45th Street, and other locations; 212-557-7770
CompUSA, 1775 Broadway, at 57th Street, and other locations; 212-262-9711; compusa.com
B&H Photo, 420 Ninth Avenue, near 33rd Street; 212-444-6615; bhphoto-video.com