It’s splurge time. For the person who has everything, you might want to buy the “next” thing, the latest mobile entertainment or navigation device. Your gift can enhance the recipients’ digital lifestyle — so they can always be in touch, and entertained, and know where they are.

Among the newest: Tiny MP3 players that now come with photos and video, and widescreen portable media players with WiFi connections and video recording.

Or take a look at the snazzy wireless Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones and music and those cellphones can now play subscription music and video.

Is your giftee always running out of cellphone power in an airport? Look for lipstick-sized emergency chargers.

Other on-the-go gifts might be the portable satellite radio that can record your favorite music — or portable GPS navigators for getting around by car or by foot.

As manufacturers add capabilities and lower their prices, this is a good time to buy. For representative products listed here, prices are approximate; expect significant deviations as you shop around.

#h#Portable Players#/h#

The Apple iPod line is the iconic portable music player, with some 75 percent market share, followed by the rapidly-growing SanDisk at 10 percent, and then Creative at 5 percent, Samsung at 2.5 percent, and Sony at 2 percent.

The major Apple advantage, besides coolness and purity of design, is to offer a single-source integrated experience. You organize your collection with Apple iTunes software (including integrated podcast downloads), buy new music from the Apple iTunes Music Store — protected with the Apple FairPlay DRM (Digital Rights Management) — and download songs to an Apple iPod ( Apple offers over 3.5 million songs at 99 cents, 65,000 free podcasts, TV shows for $1.99, and some 200 movies for $9.99 to $14.99. You’re in great shape as a result of this full Apple infrastructure, as long as you like what Steve Jobs thinks you should — since Apple does not license its formats or technology to other companies.

While all media players support the MP3 format for unprotected music, they also offer different advanced formats for better compression (especially for “ripping” your own CDs) and to protect purchased music. Apple has adopted the MPEG media standards, using AAC for audio and MPEG-4 H.264 / AVC for video, and it wraps these formats with its own proprietary copy protection.

As a result, most other non-iPod players support the Microsoft Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV) formats, also using Windows Media DRM to protect purchased content. Microsoft has encouraged the use of its “Plays For Sure” logo ( to identify compatible players (but not including its own new Zune player, see page 50).

You can purchase music and videos in Windows Media compatible formats from a wide variety of sources, including Yahoo Music, Napster, Movielink, and CinemaNow. (Or try eMusic for purchasing music in unrestricted MP3 format.) While Apple distributes its music and movie clips only as purchased downloads, the other online stores and compatible devices also offer the option of streaming movies over the Internet, and renting your media through purchasing monthly subscriptions, with access to the full library of available music (i.e., $4.99 a month for access to over 1 million songs at

Portable Media Players. Prices are dropping in the portable media player market, with 1 GB flash players under $80 (and available with up to 8 GB with video playback) and 30 GB hard disk players under $250.

You still can get tiny music players like the Apple iPod shuffle at only 0.55 oz. (1 GB for $79), or similarly-priced competitive devices including the Creative Zen Nano Plus (1 GB for $74,, and SanDisk Sansa c100 / c200 (up to 2 GB for $109, that add features including a small display so you can choose your music, plus FM radio playback, voice recording, and replaceable batteries for long trips.

But as capacity increases it becomes really clumsy trying to manage a large collection of 500-plus songs using a small screen on a tiny 1 GB player. Yes, it’s fun to “shuffle” randomly through your music, but sometimes you do want to be able to choose what you listen to, or play a specific song for a friend.

As a result, it makes sense to add a color display capable of showing a reasonable menu, to choose your music by artist, or album, or genre, or playlists. And that display can show album art, plus photo slide shows, or even video.

The result is still a very light and sub-pocket-sized player, exemplified by the Apple iPod nano (ranging from 2 GB for $149, 4 GB for $199, 8 GB for $249). The nano has a 1.5” LCD at 176 x 132 resolution (3.5 x 1.6 x 0.26 in., 1.41 oz.).

Again, competitive products at similar prices also add features like FM and recording, plus go beyond music and photos to support video playback — including the SanDisk Sansa e200 with a 1.8” LCD plus a MicroSD slot to add up to another 2 GB of storage (3.50 x 1.70 x 0.52 in., 2.6 oz), and the Creative Zen V Plus with 1.5” screen (2.6 x 1.5 x 0.6 in., 1.6 oz).

Or for a mini video player that looks more like a handheld game machine, the Kingston K-PEX (Personal Entertainment Experience) provides an interesting alternate perspective (1 GB for $129 and 2 GB for $179, It’s tiny and light (3.7 x 1.8 x 0.57”, 2.3 oz.), with a 2” color display (220 x 176), plus a miniSD memory card slot for extra expansion. The K-PEX displays text files, plays music in multiple formats (MP3, WAV, WMA, Ogg), displays JPEG photos, and plays (small) video clips converted to MPX format.

Satellite Radio. Another form of portable music is satellite radio: why spend time and money building your own music collection when you can listen to dedicated channels of whatever genre fits your mood, from commercial-free music to sports to news/talk and entertainment. SIRIUS Satellite Radio ( and XM Satellite Radio ( offer monthly subscriptions from 70 plus channels starting at $12.95. SIRIUS offers Internet radio access for the same price, or $6.99 per additional subscription. Plus there are plans for live traffic and marine weather service.

These services started for use in cars, but now also offer removable radios and base stations for home or office use — as long as you can position an antenna with a clear view of the sky where their satellites roam. And they are adding terrestrial repeaters in major cities to extend their digital signal into buildings, and for mobile use.

As a result, the trend for convergence in these devices has seen satellite radios become more portable and more like MP3 players, with the ability to record your favorites for replay later.

For example, the new Sirius Stiletto 100 has a 2 GB memory to store up to 100 hours of live programming (but you can only play recorded music from the device — you can’t then extract the music to a computer). Or mark songs to purchase later via the Yahoo! Music Engine. Plus the Stiletto includes a WiFi connection to listen to SIRIUS Internet Radio over an accessible network ($349).

Portable Video Players. While multiple gigabytes of flash memory can hold lots of songs, it’s still not necessarily enough storage to hold an entire large collection. Why constantly fuss with choosing and deleting songs in the player memory when more storage could allow you to just synch the entire library from your computer to your portable device? Similarly, you can store small video clips in flash memory, but it just does not provide enough capacity to hold TV shows or feature-length movies.

So the next step up is to hard disk-based video players, with 10 times the storage and a larger screen for music, photo, and video playback. The iconic Apple iPod video is available with 30 GB for $249 and 60 GB for $349: enough to hold some 20,000 songs, 25,000 photos, or 100 hours of video. It has a 2.5 inch screen at 320 x 240 resolution (4.1 x 2.4 x 0.43/0.55 in., 4.8/5.5 oz.). The non-removable battery provides 20 hours of music playback or 6 hours of video. Or compare the Creative Zen Vision:M also with a 2.5 inch screen, with additional features including TV video out, and USB hosting to copy photos direct from a digital camera ($249 for 30 GB, also 60 GB,

The big new entry in this market, of course, is the Microsoft Zune player, just out in November for $249 ( The Zune (rhymes with tune) has a larger 3-inch screen, comes with 30 GB of storage and also includes a built-in FM tuner. It’s available in traditional black or white, plus the interesting choice of brown.

What’s new with the Zune is the inclusion of a Wi-Fi connection (IEEE 802.11g) — but not for general Internet access. You can use it for wireless sharing songs and pictures with friends, but only in a very limited way: you can share only from Zune to Zune, the recipients can only listen to songs three times over three days, and cannot then re-share the same songs to others. However, this deep concern for protecting artist copyrights does not extend to photographs, which can be freely shared. And it also blocks free sharing of full-legal unprotected music, including your own composed music.

The Zune is a significant change of direction for Microsoft, apparently signaling that it’s given up on depending on others to take on the Apple iPod. Instead, Microsoft is competing with its own licensees in the Windows Media ecosystem by bringing out its own player, and also abandoning support for its Plays for Sure formats, which means the Zune cannot be used with your existing collections of purchased or subscription music protected with Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM digital rights management technology.

The result is a typical first-generation product, with me-too features and pricing, plus the addition of the deliberately-crippled WiFi — as the product was seemingly designed for the music industry, and not for the customers. Zune is easy to dismiss, but, like the first Microsoft Xbox gaming system, instead should be regarded as only the first beachhead in a long and serious assault on a new market.

Portable Video Players — and Recorders. These disk-based players are a little bigger and noticeably heavier than flash memory devices, but still fit comfortably in a shirt pocket. Yet they are still a personal device, for one person to watch while listening with headphones. But YouTube and the like have convincingly demonstrated that video is for sharing, which leads to the next step to portable media players, complete with larger screens and built-in speakers.

For example, the Creative Zen Vision has a 3.7 in., 640 x 480 screen, with 30 GB for $369 (4.9 x 2.9 x 0.8 in., 8.4 oz..

Archos also has introduced a new line of media players focused on a larger-screen experience (, including the Archos 404 with 3.5 in. screen and 30 GB for $299 (4 x 3 x 0.6 in., 6.75 oz), and the Archos 504 bulked up to 160 GB of storage. The Archos 404 also has a model with an integrated camera.

The Archos 604 sports a 4.3 inch widescreen display (480 x 272), with 30 GB for $349 (5 x 3 x 0.6 inches, 9.3 oz.). It also offers a model with built-in Wi-Fi for $449 — beyond the Zune’s device-to-device file-sharing to providing real Internet access, to also browse the Web and access E-mail.

The new Archos line also goes beyond playback and audio recording to offer video recording with a separate Archos DVR station module that can be added to the players to even offer scheduled recording — your player can grab your favorite shows overnight for you to watch the next day, for free ($99). It also serves as a docking station, with power, USB connectors, and an IR remote control.

#h#Portable Power#/h#

These portable gadgets make trips much more bearable, but can add their own burden from carrying around all these devices — and their accompanying power adaptors. Or you have to take the risk that you’ll run out of power before you get back home.

A better solution to this quandary is to carry a single adaptor — but one that supports multiple devices through the use of swappable tips that match specific products.

For cell phones and tiny players, there’s the Turbo Charge — a metal tube the size of one AA battery that can boost (but not completely recharge) cell phones when you desperately need them ($19.95 with one tip, or $24.95 with a set of 10 adaptors, The new model includes a general Mini-USB adaptor and even a mini flashlight. There’s also a new iTurbo, a lip balm-sized charger for most popular iPod models, which can add nine hours of playtime for the iPod nano ($29 to $34).

And for larger devices, there’s the Mobility Electronics iGo line, with different chargers for small devices up to notebooks, with options for wall power, cars, and airplanes, and dual adaptors for simultaneously charging multiple devices (


Once you’ve got your music ready to travel with portable players and even on your mobile phone, how do you then listen to it? You can choose over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headsets for a comfortable fit, in a variety of colors and styles. But the new trends this year are multi-purpose, wireless, and noise suppression.

With all these devices, who wants to carry multiple headsets? Products like the Shure I Series Sound Isolating Earphones offer the ability to switch between listening to your music and answering your phone (starting at $75, They include an inline microphone with filtering to remove background noise while on calls. These and other Shure audio and mobile phone headphones come with a selection of soft foam and flex sleeves for your in-ear comfort and sound isolation.

There are two ways to remove background noise while listening to your music: passive sound isolation and active noise cancellation. Sound isolation is simply blocking ambient noise, either though a big over-ear headphone cup, or with an in-ear bud with a flexible sleeve to seal the ear opening to isolate the sound of your music. Noise cancellation is performed by active electronics that uses a microphone to capture the background noise and generate the opposite signal to cancel out the sound. As a result, active noise cancellation headphones are heavier because of the required electronics and batteries. In general, sound isolation works great as a first cut at simply blocking noise, and then adding noise cancellation can be helpful in further cutting down irritating noisy environments, and even some of the rumble of airline travel — but it is not magic, and does not eliminate all noise.

In case you’re worried about being too sealed off from the outside world while enjoying the clarity of your music, the high-end Shure E500PTH Sound Isolating Earphones not only includes three hi-definition miniature drivers, but also adds an option that lets you alternate noise isolation and hearing the outside world ($499).

Sound isolation earbuds like the Shure can reduce outside noise up to 90 percent (30+ db). And for noise cancellation in earbuds, the Sony MDR-NC11A Noise Canceling Headphones include a small control with electronics, battery, and on/off switch, and can reduce outside noise up to 70 percent (10 db) — your results will vary with these depending on the specific kinds of noises ($99).

Sony has taken noise cancellation a step further by including it with the music player, in its flash-memory Sony Noise Canceling Walkman MP3 Player with active noise canceling earbuds to reduce ambient noise to 25 percent (12 db) — (NW-S703F 1 GB for $169, NW-S705F 2 GB for $199,

For home and office use, the full-size Logitech Noise Canceling Headphones include over-ear pads to block some noise, plus active noise cancellation, with the batteries and on/off switch nestled in one of the ear cushions ($149, For travel, they collapse nicely into a carrying case and include an airline adaptor.

But those earphone cables do get in the way. Wireless connections using Bluetooth technology are becoming popular for mobile phones, with people wandering the streets with Borg-like appendages over their ears while they mutter to themselves. And as mobile phones move to stereo for music playback and audio players add wireless, Bluetooth has been extended to support the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), offering CD quality stereo over wireless.

For example, Jabra offers a full line of wireless headsets, headphones, and speakerphones, some with active noise cancellation, including a variety of over-ear and behind-ear styles for mobile phones — some can vibrate for an incoming call, have controls to answer/end calls and adjust volume, and even include a display to show caller ID information ( And for more style, the Jabra BT 150 has 33 interchangeable design covers ($59).

For wireless access to your music, plug the Jabra A125s into your iPod ($59), or plug the Jabra A120s adaptor into any music player ($49) and send Bluetooth stereo to the Jabra BT620s Bluetooth stereo headset ($129).

For wireless freedom at home or in the office, the Logitech FreePulse Wireless Headphones are very light and comfortable, and also include a small adaptor to plug in to the stereo plug of any music player to listen in wirelessly ($99,

And for the car, Parrot offers wireless Bluetooth products including the Parrot Driver Headset to answer your phone and talk hands-free ($59), and car kits like the Parrot MK6000 to both play the music from your Bluetooth MP3 player through the car’s speakers, or talk hands-free and listen to music from your stereo mobile phone ($179,

#h#Mobile Phones#/h#

We seem to be collecting more and more portable gadgets, in our pockets and in our cars — mobile phone, PDA, media player, GPS navigator, satellite radio — so there would seem to be a need for an even stronger trend towards integrated devices to lessen the load. And since the mobile phone is always with us, it would seem to be the obvious choice for adding features, even beyond the games and texting and E-mail and Web access that have already been available.

Mobile Internet and Multimedia. The big news with these mobile services is the roll-out of 3G (third-generation) mobile broadband service, offering “DSL-like” data rates. The Verizon EV-DO 3G network is rated at 400 to 700 kilobits per second for downloads, and 40 to 60 Kbps for uploads. That makes it reasonable to access E-mail, including attachments, and surf Web sites, and even to play streaming videos.

Verizon and the other carriers continue to roll out their high-speed services. In my testing of EV-DO along the Eastern seaboard, it’s almost always available on train rides, except in rural Connecticut and short gaps in North Jersey, and it’s much better than a year ago at penetrating deep into buildings in Boston, New York, and Princeton — but not into some underground floors.

As a result, you never need to be out of touch again — you can obsessively read E-mail and monitor stock prices at any time, or, more reasonably, check the latest news or weather or travel schedules. Photographers can post new images and bloggers can post new entries to the Web on the go, all without needing to carry a laptop or hunt for a WiFi hotspot.

However, all this access does require that you step up to an unlimited data service plan. Be careful to read the fine print — for example, Verizon’s “unlimited” BroadbandAccess service (up to $45 a month) forbids usage for services including streaming video, and requires an extra charge for a VZAccess connection for your computer through your phone to the Internet.

One poster child for today’s integrated high-speed mobile phones is the LG Chocolate (VX8500) — an interesting chunk of candy, with a smooth slider design that lights up with red glowing touch-sensitive navigation keys ($149,

As a phone, it has a 1.3 megapixel camera, microSD memory slot, and Bluetooth connection for hands-free headsets (3.8 x 1.88 x 0.69 inches, 3.53 oz.). And as an Internet device, it supports mobile web, mobile instant messaging, and Verizon’s Get It Now applications. As a multimedia device, it serves as a music player that you can sync from your PC, and supports streaming and download V CAST music and video at EV-DO speed. And it even adds GPS support for navigation.

Of course, media on mobile phones is not new — we’re getting used to music playback and built-in cameras for photo and video capture and playback. New models like the LG Chocolate not only synch music from your computer, but also support the Verizon V CAST Music service to download tracks on the go, and Verizon V CAST Video for streaming playback of a library of news, sports, and entertainment clips ($15 per month subscription,

Sprint and now Cingular also offer media subscription and download services, as cellphones become like pocket-size transistor radios.

PDA Phones. Of course, while a mobile phone can make sense as an integrated device, it’s rather limited by the small screen and numeric keypad. Thus the attraction of PDA phones, with larger screens, QWERTY keypads (albeit with tiny keys), and the ability to synch your office documents and run sophisticated applications.

If you’re a Windows fan, the Motorola Q is an amazingly slim and light device, available from Verizon for $199 (, It has a full-color 320 x 240 display, QWERTY keypad, 1.3 megapixel camera, and miniSD expansion memory slot (2.5 x 4.6 x 0.45 in., 4.1 oz).

The Q runs Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone, which includes mini-Office applications, and the Windows Media Player. As a media player, the Q supports a wide variety of standard-based, Windows Media, and phone media formats. Yes, you indeed can browse to a video website and just start playing files.

And for Palm Treo fans, Palm has crossed over to the dark side and now offers the Treo in both Palm OS and Windows Mobile versions ( These are available from Sprint and Verizon for $399 or even $299 with rebate. They both support 3G EV-DO speeds and have an Intel XScale 312 MHz processor, 128 MB built-in memory (half used by the OS), SD/SDIO/MMC expansion slot, 1.3 megapixel 1280 x 1024 camera, with a touch screen, backlit QWERTY keypad and 5-way navigator control — and the same form factor (2.3 x 4.4 x 0.9 in., 6.4 oz).

The Palm Treo 700w runs Windows Mobile 5.0, Pocket PC Phone Edition, but has a lower 240 x 240 screen resolution. It’s designed to sync with Outlook, runs pocket version of the familiar Microsoft Office applications, and has built-in music and video playback with Windows Media Player 10.

The Palm Treo 700p runs Palm OS 5, with a 320 x 320 screen. While Palm OS has been something of a lost stepchild, it is improved, and the result is still a more convenient to use interface than Windows Mobile, especially one-handed. It also syncs nicely with Outlook and uses third-party applications like Documents to Go to sync and edit Office documents and E-mail attachments. The media support also still leans on third party applications, with built-in playback of photos and camera phone video formats, Windows Media Video playback in the browser, and the Pocket Tunes music player, with synching to the Windows Media Player and support for a variety of formats (after upgrading).

The combination of a reasonable screen size and fast 3G data service also opens up interesting possibilities for streaming video direct to your cell phone. The Treo 700s can stream Windows Media files directly from websites.

You also can use third-party applications like MobiTV to watch live television on a variety of phones and PDAs — with subscription access to 30 plus video channels ($9.99 per month), plus digital radio (

This is the big benefit of PDA phones — big enough screen, keyboard, and good enough processor to run all those interesting Palm and Windows Mobile / Pocket PC applications. Now add the high-speed data connection, and things get even more interesting, even beyond multimedia.

For example, the Google Maps service runs on a wide variety of phones and Treos, but really sings on the Treo 700p ( You simply enter an address in typical flexible Google search format, and the map appears on your screen. You can zoom in and out, or drag the stylus to scroll — with the new map image filling in almost instantly. As on the Web, you can switch between map and satellite view, and even overlay traffic information (highlighting busy roads). And you can search for nearby businesses, or get directions for a trip, step by step with maps and text. However, this is not (as yet) linked to a live GPS signal to track your actual location.

#h#GPS Navigation#/h#

Mobile Phone GPS. GPS is a major new trend, not only for navigating and tracking, but also for location-stamping information such as photos in a digital camera. Some new phones not only know your general location (by triangulating from cell towers), but also can include a GPS (Global Positioning System) chip for precise positioning.

As a result, you can run applications such as Verizon VZ Navigator ($9.99 per month, to provide real-time mapping directly on your phone. TeleNav offers similar tools, plus add-in GPS receivers for PDAs ( These are helpful for general assistance and certainly great in an emergency, but can’t compare to dedicated GPS units for responsiveness and reliability.

The VZ Navigator interface actually worked amazingly well even on the small screen and keypad of a mobile phone. It was good at understanding location addresses that I entered, returns a useful series of step-by-step navigation maps that you can scroll through, and then provides a useful guidance display as you are traveling — including voice directions that even attempt to say the name of the street out loud.

However, any such phone-based system is limited by the need for a round-trip delay when communicating with the server (for example when recomputing directions) — and these delays can be inconsistent, which is a problem when you really need to know immediately whether to make another turn. In addition, the implementation of the GPS tracking was also not as accurate as a dedicated system with a stronger antenna — VZ Navigator can be confused about your exact position and direction of travel, so the instructions can be wrong as you start up a trip, or off by a block or two on nearby streets (especially a problem when walking in New York City).

The actual navigation directions provided by VZ Navigator were sometimes very odd — sending us past the street we wanted in Princeton only to circle around and back, and directing us away from a highway on-ramp in Boston to take an alternate route to the same highway.

But given its limitations, GPS navigation on phones certainly can be a great help to keep you on the right track, and a comfort when you get lost. Just regard VZ Navigator as a generally-knowledgeable advisor to supplement your travel directions, but don’t blindly rely on it.

You also can add GPS navigation to your smartphone or PDA with products like ALK CoPilot Live, made by Herrontown-Road based ALK Technologies, which can communicate via Bluetooth to a wireless GPS antenna and optimally to your phone for real-time tracing and messaging ($199 to $399, with map data on miniSD card and GPS receiver,

Mobile GPS. However, this trend of converged devices with media players and GPS navigation also goes the other direction, with car navigation systems going portable (breaking away from the dashboard like satellite radio), and then adding media playback on the color screen, and even Bluetooth integration to act as the display for a mobile phone.

For example, the Pharos Drive GPS 140 is a portable navigation device with a 4-inch color touch screen display and preloaded maps of the U.S. and Canada on a 2 GB SD card ($486, For use in the car, it adds Bluetooth calling capability for dialing and receiving calls hands-free. But it’s also small and light enough to fit in a coat pocket to use when walking (5.8 x 3.5 x 1 inches), and so adds MP3 music playback, photo viewing, and even videos. The process of converting and loading files is not yet fully documented, and there’s not much room on the SD card with the maps, but this is an indication of the developing trend to store and play media on almost every device.

The Mio DigiWalker C710 is also a portable navigation system, with a 3.5 inch touchscreen, full maps, Bluetooth, and media player ($599, Plus it has a TMC (Traffic Message Channel) receiver for real-time traffic information broadcast on FM (operational in most European countries and coming to North America, see And it’s certainly portable (4.33 x 3.03 x 0.78 inches, 6 oz.).

But check out the handheld Mio DigiWalker H610 — miniaturized to the size of a deck of cards, with a 2.7 inch screen ($499, 2.32 x 3.35 x 0.74 inches, 3.88 oz.). It’s designed for all forms of travel — car and bike and walking — with GPS navigation plus media playback. Plus it includes a three-year WorldMate subscription to check weather, convert currencies, get flight info and more.

The H610 supports JPEG and BMP photos, MP3 music, and MPEG-4 video. It includes Toolbox software to convert formats, and you can download using the Mio Transfer tool or the SD card.

We have reached the point where you can actually have it all with you — any place, any time, any digital thing that is important to you.

You can carry your entire music collection, your favorite photos, your datebook and contact and important files.

You can download the latest podcasts, TV shows, and even movies to take on a trip or listen to live radio and even TV.

You can be entertained by games, both personal and network-based.

You can always be in touch — by phone, voicemail, text messages, instant messaging, E-mail, photo and video messages.

You can be updated on news, weather, and billions of Web postings.

You can be navigating by GPS, with live directions and maps.

So are you ready to invest in more portable gadgets? Or maybe trade in a few dedicated gadgets for a single more integrated device? One trade group thinks you will. For the fourth quarter of 2006 the Consumer Electronics Association forecasts 15 percent industry growth. Let the shopping begin.

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