Hot Topics - Summertime Cool Page 2

Aiwa MP3 CD Player Cool Factor 4

The Aiwa XP-MP3C ($240) is pretty much a standard-issue portable CD player, except that it plays both CD-Rs and CD-RWs as well as MP3 files burned to CD. It took an uncommonly long time to read both these discs and regular CDs, however. And you'll want to get a better set of headphones than the supplied pair - especially if you're going to be listening to lower-bit-rate MP3 files, which can get screechy.

Unlike many flash-memory and hard-disk devices, which give you a playlist on the readout, with the Aiwa you have no choice but to wade through the tracks if a friend sends you an unlabeled CD filled with MP3 songs. This is one area where portable CD players are starting to show their age. The readout will scroll the album and track titles, provided they're part of the MP3 file, but not automatically - you've got to hit the display button to bring it up.

The Aiwa player has a couple of neat extras going for it. It comes with a kit that includes a power line you can plug into your car's cigarette lighter and a cassette adapter that feeds the signal to its sound system. Cassette adapters aren't as useful today as they once were, though, since many new cars come with CD players instead of cassette decks. And you can use the player's AC adapter to juice up its rechargeable batteries.

- Aiwa America | | 800-289-2492

Casio Wrist Camera Cool Factor 8

Casio's WQV1-1CR camera wristwatch ($200) gets six points on the cool scale just for existing. Anybody who can't get a kick out of playing with this thing is too jaded to live. Just aim the tiny lens on the front, press the shutter button, and you've captured a 120 x 120-pixel black-and-white image on the 1-MB storage chip. (Well - the images aren't so much black and white as gray and shades of khaki, but why quibble with coolness?) Since the camera's operation is absolutely unobtrusive and silent, you'll have no trouble using it to take pictures when you really shouldn't. (You get the feeling with a lot of these portables that the designers watched way too many spy movies when they were kids.)

You're not going to get bright, razor-sharp, high-res photos from this thing - that would be like expecting the Wright brothers to fly you to India - but it's pretty much a dead cinch that the quality of the displays will improve. The lens needs lots of light for good images, so don't even think about doing any dead-of-night stealth photography. (For that use the Sharp camcorder reviewed on page 73.) But it can be hard to make out the display in direct sunlight. You can adjust the brightness of the image before you take the shot, but that doesn't give you tremendous latitude - the range goes pretty quickly from hopelessly murky to completely washed out. You can adjust for outdoor or indoor lighting, though.

The wrist camera's considerable coolness doesn't stop with its picture-taking ability, though. Every time you go to take a shot, the readout lets you know how many images you have room for. You can input up to 24 text characters for each image and use these tags to sort any images you've got stored. (The watch's memory chip holds 100 pictures.) For more way cool spy stuff, just point the front of your watch at the front of another Casio wrist camera, and you can transmit or receive images through an infrared (IR) beam just by selecting Send or Receive on the readout. But that's not all! Buy the PC link kit ($50), and you get a neat little IR adapter for your computer that looks like a black-plastic cobra. Point the wristwatch at the cobra's head, press Send, and your pictures are transferred to your hard drive, where you can convert them to BMP or JPEG format. You can also send photos from your computer to the watch. The Casio watch is full of other surprises, too - like it actually tells time. And has an alarm, and you can use it as a stopwatch. It does get one demerit, though, for including only Windows software.

- Casio USA | | 800-962-2746