You might not think taking your expensive portable technology into rugged terrain, but there’s no reason to use the excuse that your MacBook or iPod are too delicate to take outside as to eschew the great outdoors—or an opportunity to exercise and breathe fresh air. With the proper gear, your tunes can venture outside with you and go back inside no worse for the wear.
A stitched-and-stuffed leather Wi-Fi pal, the Chumby is a virtual companion, chock-full of useful and amusing information. It’s somehow still cuddly, even with a 3.5-inch touch-sensitive LCD screen mounted to its face, but its Internet-enabled widgets demand to be taken seriously. Because it’s essentially a small, Internet-connected computer, the Chumby is equal parts digital-picture frame, weather forecaster, New York Times reader, alarm clock, Internet radio, and game platform. Depending on your needs, it could be something completely different. While we found some flaws, its casual, fun nature—and surprisingly handy tools—enable it to blend into any home.
No pockets in your running shorts? That doesn’t mean you have to pound the turf or treadmill in silence. The Music Band-It keeps your music streaming while you run, walk, or hike. The armband, which comes in versions to fit the iPhone and a variety of iPods, features built-in earbuds with a retractable cord that make listening to music while you work out hassle-free. The patented retractable 4-foot-long cord gives you only as much length as you need and is kept neatly organized when not in use.
The audio hardware market is crowded with a cornucopia of portable digital recorders, ranging from tiny dictation devices to multitrack monsters. The Zoom H2 Handy Recorder does an admirable job offering a happy medium, combining pro-level 96KHz recording with a small form-factor and price tag to match—the street price is just under $200. Aside from its cheaply built feel, there’s very little not to like about this diminutive wonder.
The Squeezebox Duet helps lazy music lovers live the dream of easy access to their digital album collections. Like an AirPort Express, the compact receiver connects to your stereo and plays songs from a wirelessly networked Mac, so you can enjoy your tunes without having to get up off the couch. But the receiver is just half of Logitech’s duo: Taking a feature from high-end systems, the Duet lets you control everything using its Wi-Fi LCD remote. That means that you’re free to wander away from the stereo and your Mac, changing tracks from anywhere on your Wi-Fi network. While the Duet hits a couple of sour notes, the sound quality and convenience are hard to beat.
Having good music in your car is almost as essential as filling it with gas. But looking down at your iPod’s controls can be downright unsafe. You can often skip a track without taking your eyes off the road, but turning on shuffle or selecting a new playlist can be several menus away. Scosche’s IPNRFC is an RF remote control that attaches to your steering wheel for heads-up control of your dockable iPod.
A speaker in every room has been many a homeowner’s dream. Alas, this usually means hiring professionals to run speaker wires through your house—or doing it yourself and inadvertently creating softball-size holes that start off the size of a pea. The Eos Wireless iPod Speakers bring the dream of a home filled with music without your having to hang large pictures to cover up any DIY attempts.
Dictate comes with a USB headset. Dictation programs act as your personal typist, transcribing words as quickly as you speak—theoretically, anyway. Initially, Dictate did an excellent job transcribing our spoken phrases into onscreen text. And it even let us control menus, edit text, and access other functionality in the open app, so we kept our hands off the keyboard with great success. Dictate impressed us with its quick, accurate performance. However, we hit a wall almost immediately. In its initial release, Dictate can’t improve its accuracy when listening to your corrections. If it thinks you mean “racket” when you say “wrecked,” it always will until MacSpeech releases an update.
The isolation headset embodies form and function. Like the iPod before it, the iPhone has created a cottage industry of cases, add-ons, and headsets. Maximo is hoping that its latest foray into the headset market will get you to drop Apple’s standard white headset. Right out of the box the iMetal headset came equipped with something all manufacturers should include: an extension cable. Too many times we’ve had to reconsider which pocket to stash our iPhone in because of too-short headset cables.