Hot Topics - Summertime Cool Page 4

Samsung Uproar MP3 Cell Phone Cool Factor 7

The Uproar SPH-M100 ($400) is first and foremost a cell phone, and it comes with all of the usual cell-phone goodies, like a digital phone book, a personal information manager, and voice recording. But transfer some files into its 64-MB memory chip via the USB port, and it becomes one of the first phones that can also play MP3 files.

Nobody's going to buy this just for the MP3 player (at least you'd hope not - and anyone who'd pay $400 for a fixed-memory MP3 player deserves to be taken at every opportunity), but as an accessory to the latest cultural plague, it's not such a bad deal. You can operate the player with the buttons on the phone (although that gets inconvenient) or with a wired remote, about the size of a silver dollar, that clips to your belt or pocket. The earbuds are attached to the remote. The player's sound through the buds was surprisingly good - better than the two dedicated MP3 players here.

Since the Uproar doesn't have a memory-card slot, there's nowhere to go once you've used up the embedded memory. But you'll be able to store a decent amount of music - about 65 minutes at 128 kbps - before it fills up, and you can always swap those files out for more using the supplied (PC only) MusicMatch Jukebox Plus software.

- Samsung Electronics America | | 201-229-4000

Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox digital Audio Player Cool Factor 10

No point in pulling punches: the Nomad Jukebox C and the Panasonic DVD player are by far the coolest things here, which is why they both rate a big 10. The Jukebox is a class act all the way around. It looks good, feels good, sounds good, and is a real blast to just goof around with. At $270, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and in the overpriced world of convergence toys, it's a steal. (Creative Labs expects to have a smaller, higher- capacity version of the Jukebox available by this fall.)

The design is a real eyecatcher - nice, trendy curves, but nothing ridiculously bulbous. And the curves are functional, too, letting the Nomad rest securely in your hand. The buttons are nicely laid out and feel reassuringly firm. The backlit LCD crams a lot of information into its 21/8 x 11/8-inch space - which means it can sometimes be tough to make out the small characters in direct sunlight. The impressively solid construction lets you know that the 6-gigabyte (GB) hard drive is well protected, but the player still weighs in at less than a pound.

That hard drive is the Nomad's biggest selling point. Preloaded with 20 hours of music, it can hold up to 150 CDs. Patch it into your PC or Mac via the USB port (cable included), and you can download files or rip CDs to the hard drive to your heart's content. (Using the line-in jack, you can also record from analog sources like your cassette deck or a microphone.) You'd have a tough time finding another portable better suited for party play since the Nomad lets you take a good chunk of your music collection with you - no hunting for and swapping out CDs or cassettes, or taking potluck off the radio. Sure, a full-blown rig offers the advantage of bigger sound, but that's about it. (Plug the Nomad into that rig and you've got the best of both worlds.) The hard drive does have one downside: it can be noisy, making it sound like you've got crickets - but that's not a problem if you're outside and you do have crickets, or are standing more than a few feet away.

Wed the Jukebox to the equally solid and well-designed Cambridge SoundWorks PlayDock PD200 portable powered speaker ($200), and you've got pretty much the perfect party system. Hook up the PlayDock to the Nomad, place the player in the cradle on top, and you've got three drivers and 30 watts of power in a compact, 11 x 11-inch tabletop package. The PlayDock has a full, open sound, with nice stereo separation and ready-to-boogie-down bass. The sound is a little exaggerated, but it's been tweaked to hold its own at a party or picnic, not to feed your critical-listening jones.

The Nomad has two line-out jacks so you can hook it up to other audio systems and includes a USB cable and a CD-ROM with Creative Labs' PlayCenter 2 for PCs and SoundJam MP for Macs (I told you these guys know what they're doing) along with a useful Jukebox tutorial. For $50 you can get an accessory pack that includes decent backphones, a carrying case, a cassette adapter, and four rechargeable AA batteries.

- Creative Labs | | 800-998-1000

- Cambridge SoundWorks | | 800-367-4434

JVC Backpack Boombox Cool Factor 4

And now - from the sublime to the kind of ridiculous. The JVC RS-WP1 backpack boombox ($220) is so outrageously dorky that it's almost sort of kind of cool. Looking like an atomic-powered Batman gizmo, a prehistoric bug, or some kind of anime escutcheon, it's actually a pretty traditional boombox all done up in a contemporary shell.

A footstand pulls out from the bottom of the back, letting you rest the pack on a table, where you can admire it as an objet d'kitsch. This is the only way that the owner/carrier/victim can really hear what this thing sounds like. When you're hauling it on your back, most of the sound gets projected behind you, forcing others to eat your sonic dust - which is the whole point, I guess. (The sound actually isn't too bad, by the way. Hardly high fidelity, but better than your average boombox.) And man, is this thing heavy - not as in '70s funkspeak, but as in, a ton to lug around. Adding the eight D-cell batteries necessary for true portability gives you a load that's not for the physically unfit.

The CD player and tape deck performed their jobs well. And the first-rate AM/FM tuner pulled in a decent number of stations with a nice, clean signal - but that means extending the collapsible antenna, which, when you have the pack on, makes you look more like Maxwell Smart than James Bond.

- JVC of America | | 800-252-5722