Pretty pebble: As far as actual technology goes, all flash-memory MP3 players are pretty much the same. If you’re thinking about the iPod Touch as an exception, think again, since the Touch is an actual computer, complete with a central processor, RAM and an operating system. But side by side, most solid-state MP3 players are identical, give or take a luxury function or two.

Until recently, their evolution centered around creating more data storage on increasingly smaller chips, but still controlled by the same protocols and the same five to seven buttons. The next phase will no doubt take advantage of organic LED in improving display screens, with elegance of design again largely relegated to the back seat.

So it’s a wonder to see Samsung Electronics, which has made a fortune on thin-film transistor (TFT) display devices, release a flash-memory audio player June 4 that has no display screen and is thrillingly pretty. (Samsung also released its own touch-screen model, the YP-P2, earlier this year.)

The fashion-forward YP-S2 Pebble player looks like a small shiny cobblestone on one side. All the controls are on the back face, a simple large-buttoned interface that’s easy to navigate with your thumb. The device recharges via the headphone socket, which appears to be a tradeoff for preserving its distinct appearance.

The player comes in 1-gigabyte and 2-gigabyte capacities and reads a standard lineup of audio files: MP3, WMA and Ogg. Tweaking the package is the latest version of what Samsung calls Digital Natural Sound (DNSe) technology, which is intended to maximize acoustic quality.

At 4.1×4.2×1 cm, the S2 seems aimed squarely at competing with Apple’s iPod Shuffle, a device of similar size that also lacks a screen. The Samsung lacks the Shuffle’s useful spring clip, but it’s designed to be worn with its lanyard earphone set like a pendant. Its light weight of 17 grams helps with this accessory feature.

Offered in a choice of five colors — white, red, green, purple and black — the 1-gigabyte version is priced at ¥4,800, while the 2-gigabyte model goes for ¥6,500.

Apart from focusing on sound to the exclusion of a halfhearted display screen, the S2 rests its appeal squarely on its looks. Perhaps that will be enough to make it the apple of your eye.

Lending a hand: It boggles the mind, when watching cell-phone obsessives frantically punching tiny keypads with their thumbs all day, that the industrialized world is not in the middle of an orthopedic crisis caused by an epidemic of repetitive-stress injuries.

But what to do? Big equals bulk in mobile telephony, a key reason why external keyboards for mobiles haven’t caught on. So until the human pocket size expands dramatically, cell-phone keypads have little hope of getting any bigger than current handsets are now.

Considering the influx of touch-screen devices, Japanese device maker I-O Data is paddling against the current with its new CPKB/BT portable keyboard, which comes out today (¥15,700).

This noteworthy device connects to your phone via Bluetooth and draws its power from a pair of AAA batteries, meaning that it’s universally compatible with a growing list of handsets and won’t drain the phone’s battery over a long e-mail. The CPKB/BT places its emphasis squarely on portability. The keyboard is just 15 cm wide and 9 cm deep and weighs 170 grams. The batteries last two to three months under normal usage.

While it is a smart-looking accessory and offers the full QWERTY setup in its 59-key layout, the compromises are obvious. A single hand can cover the entire keyboard and its small keys are fine for two-finger operators, but touch typists will be well out of their element, especially with the small space bar. Moreover, how well it stands up to the kind of pounding that the more violent typists among us dish out is debatable. Still, it is a step up from phone keypads doing triple duty or more.

Freedom mouse: The wireless mouse is another attempt to solve one of the worst compromises made in the interests of going portable — the tracking pad or stick saddling of too many notebook computers. Put simply, they are generally a poor tool for anything more complex than moving the pointer around.

Mouse makers, taking advantage of the ubiquitous USB port, have tried to accommodate the needs of notebook users, entering designs that are smaller, lighter and with innovations such as flat, retractable cords. It was only with the fairly recent innovation of micro USB transmitters and receivers that cordless mice became a viable option for PCs — both desktops and notebooks.

Peripherals maker Elecom is trumpeting its latest incarnation of the wireless mouse, the M-D15UR, as the “definitive edition.” Stylish in looks, the mouse snuggles into the palm and boasts fast 2.4-gigahertz connectivity.

The real eye-catcher in the design is cleverly hidden in its thick end. There is a compartment to keep the micro USB receiver when it is not plugged into the computer, making it convenient for transport and harder to lose. The user just takes the receiver out and plugs it into their computer to get mouse and computer talking. Featuring a resolution of 1200 dpi to help capture subtle movements, the mouse operates on a single AA battery.

Elecom claims an operating range of up to 10 meters from the computer if the mouse is used on a nonmetallic surface, such as a wooden desk. With a magnetic surface, such as a steel desk, the range is cut to 3 meters. The battery life is about 200 hours of usage. It weighs 60 grams without the battery and works with both PCs and Macs (OSX 10.5). The mouse is available in a choice of six colors: white, silver, black, beige, blue and pink.

Some might consider a wireless mouse a luxury item, but really it’s as basic a choice as picking a decent keyboard to work on. It is a personal choice as to whether the price — ¥7,560 — that smart convenience demands is worth it.


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