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Sure, advances in technology help fight disease, boost productivity, and keep us better connected to the office (many thanks for that one). But they also give us something more: all-new ways to part with our money. And we do it happily, because the gadgets keep getting better and better — not to mention, they’re just plain cool. From pocket-size video players that store dozens of movies to wrist-mounted Global Positioning System devices that guide and pace your morning runs, the following products help us make the most of our ever-dwindling leisure hours. But don’t worry: Should you need a business justification for that new iPod, think of all those patent law podcasts you could be downloading. That is, when you’re done watching the last five seasons of “24.” ARCHOS 605 WI-FI MEDIA PLAYER Over the past few years, Archos S.A., a French electronics company, has released a steady stream of innovative portable media players. And for years pretty much no one — at least in the United States — has noticed. There were two reasons. First, its main competitor was Apple Inc.’s iPod. Second, Archos had a habit of shooting itself in the foot with clunky interfaces and bulky units that seemed designed more for a moon mission than for the beach. They were engineering marvels and marketing nightmares. Now, with its latest series of video players, Archos looks ready for prime time. The flagship of the crop, the Archos 605 Wi-Fi, boasts a staggering set of features: a 4.3-inch widescreen display with ultra-sharp resolution of 800 by 480 pixels (more than any other pocket-size unit), a huge 160GB hard drive, touch-screen controls, built-in Wi-Fi, a PDF viewer, a photo viewer, and the ability to store data files. Plug it into the optional DVR Station accessory and you can record video off practically any source, including a cable box or satellite. This eliminates the biggest drawback of most portable media players: getting content onto them. Instead of converting DVDs and other media to a portable-friendly format (a laborious task even for those who understand it), users simply record directly to the Archos, which acts like a high-tech VCR. There are some small caveats. The 605 is, itself, reasonably priced, at $399 for the 160GB version (just $50 more than the new 160GB iPod classic, which has a smaller screen and no Wi-Fi). And there are less expensive versions available, including a 30GB model at $299. But you’ll need to dig deeper into your wallet to experience everything the 605 can do. A Web browser (which should have been included) is an extra $30, and plug-ins to play certain video and audio formats run $20 each. The DVR Station adds another $100. Keep in mind, too, that since it records at VGA resolution (640 by 480), the DVR Station doesn’t take full advantage of that super-sharp screen. But none of these gripes are deal-breakers, for as far as video in a pocket goes, the Archos 605 is the best solution yet. APPLE IPOD With the September refreshing of its iPod line, Apple introduced one new product, completely revamped another, and fattened up the storage on a third. The new product — the iPod touch — is essentially an iPhone sans phone. It has the same 3.5-inch widescreen display and fabulous “multitouch” navigation (zoom in on a photo by spreading your fingers on the screen). The iPod touch is almost impossibly thin at just 8 mm deep, and its built-in Wi-Fi lets mobile users surf the Web — and, through the new iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, buy songs and videos. But the big draw here is the screen, which is just large enough to make viewing a full-length film a reasonably enjoyable experience (that said, we still think 4.3 inches provides the best comfort-to-portability ratio). For iPod fans who want video to go, this is the iPod to own, though we hope the storage gets bumped up in the next version. The two models now available, at 8GB ($299) and 16GB ($399) won’t hold enough movies for that cruise around the world, though they’ll do fine for a trip into the office. The real winner, however, in Apple’s new lineup is the redesigned iPod nano. Shorter and wider than its predecessor, it still fits in a pants pocket — of a small dog. But now the nano sports a larger, 2-inch color screen (older nanos couldn’t do video) with the same resolution, 320 by 240, as the standard iPod. Watching video on a 2-inch screen has its pros and cons. The picture is extremely sharp (thanks to Apple squeezing all those pixels into such a small space). But viewing anything longer than a sitcom should be done under the care of a good ophthalmologist. And whatever you do, don’t watch anything with subtitles. The nano ($149 for the 4GB version; $199 for the 8GB model) sports Apple’s new iPod interface, as well, which splits the screen to show menu choices on one side, and additional information — like song titles, the current time, or the amount of free space left on the iPod — on the other. This is the nano Apple should have released from the start. On first glance, the flagship iPod — now christened the iPod classic — seems pretty much business as usual, aside from a new all-metal enclosure. But there have been some significant enhancements under the hood, primarily a big bump in storage. The $249 base unit (prices remain unchanged) has gone from 30GB to 80GB, while the slightly thicker $349 model now features 160GB of space, up from 80GB. These iPods also boast the same interface as the new nano, and tremendous battery life: Ours played music for over 50 hours straight (Apple rates it for 40). Of course, with every new iPod iteration, Apple manages to take something out of the box; first it was the power adapter and iTunes CD; now it’s the slipcase that came with the last generation. But if it gets us twice as much storage space at the same price, well, fair enough. GARMIN FORERUNNER 305 There aren’t many technologies that can both steer a missile into a bunker and help you train for a marathon. But the Global Positioning System — an array of navigation satellites orbiting the earth — is friend, foe, and coach. Garmin Ltd. may be best known for its vehicle GPS systems, but it’s also incorporated the technology into a line of wrist-mounted training devices. The Forerunner 305, which could pass for the world’s largest — and dorkiest — watch (it also comes with a heart monitor), is Garmin’s top dog and, at the odd list price of $323, its most expensive. Like an ordinary training watch, the Forerunner 305 can time laps and store long histories of workouts. But by locking onto you and tracking you through your run (it only sounds Big Brother-ish, though you may not want to rob any banks during your morning workout), the Forerunner also calculates your pace in real time, measures distance traveled (and distance to any landmark you’ve set), and alerts you when you’re going too fast or too slow. There’s software that lets you overlay your run on a map back at your PC, so you can see how you fared on hills and other course features. Given everything the Forerunner can do, it’s no surprise that the manual is a must-read. We also think the screen — which sports late-’90s-era monochrome — could use an update to the vivid color displays Garmin uses on its vehicle systems. But for runners — and bikers, too — who want to crunch every last bit of training data, this is the ultimate workout aid. FLIP VIDEO ULTRA SERIES CAMCORDER Think of Flip Video as an impulse camcorder. Barely larger than a deck of cards, the device, from Pure Digital Technologies Inc., goes everywhere, runs on AA batteries, and requires no tapes, cords, memory cards, installation CDs, or effort to use. Just turn on the camera and press the record button (you can zoom in and out somewhat, as well). When you’re finished, pull out the USB connector that is built into the unit and plug it into a PC. Video, which is stored in flash memory inside the camcorder, is loaded onto your computer (all the necessary software is in the camcorder, too), and you’ll see options to share the files with others — either via e-mail, YouTube, or AOL Video — archive them, or add music. It’s all idiot-proof, and the camcorder takes decent footage, even indoors — though no one is going to mistake this for a top-flight (and top-dollar) model. At $149 for the 30-minute (1GB) model and $179 for the 60-minute (2GB) version, Flip Video can be an impulse buy, too. WIRELESS ENTERTAINMENT DESKTOP 8000 There are a lot of things that fall into the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” category. We never thought a computer keyboard was one of them. But at $299, Microsoft’s new keyboard/mouse duo costs almost as much as a low-end PC. Fortunately, there is nothing low-end — or even middle-end — about it. The Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 throws in practically every frill one could imagine for a keyboard and mouse (and, it turns out, there are a lot more than you’d think). The best feature is the keyboard’s terrific backlight. Not only does it illuminate keys in a dark room, but it senses when you’re near it, turning on and off as needed, and saving power (the unit runs on rechargeable batteries) when you’ve stepped away. The keyboard is thin and sleek, with low-lying keys that are extremely comfortable for typing (once you get used to the slightly curved, ergonomic design). The mouse — which, like the keyboard, works wirelessly via an included Bluetooth transceiver — spares no feature, either. You can scroll horizontally as well as vertically, and press a button to magnify what’s on the screen. Like the keyboard, it just feels good, too — which will lessen the sting when the bill comes. NINTENDO DS/WII Anyone who dismisses Nintendo’s DS as a $129 toy is missing the point: It’s the world’s greatest airplane time-killer. That’s especially true now, with the release of The New York Times Crosswords ($19) — 1,000 ripped-from-the-pages puzzles crammed on a single DS game card. The program’s interface is outstanding; Players can scroll across the board by moving their stylus on the DS touch-screen; they can zoom in and out, ask for hints, and write out their answers (the handwriting recognition is not perfect, but it’s pretty close). We’re also big fans of Nintendo’s new Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day ($19) — not for the collection of minigames designed to improve the efficiency of your noggin (it’s all kind of dubious, though strangely addictive), but for the first-rate rendition of Sudoku (more than 100 puzzles strong). And if you can find it in stores (good luck), consider Nintendo’s Wii console. It lacks the processing horsepower of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but trumps both on innovation. Using a motion-sensitive controller, the Wii provides players with a uniquely immersive experience, letting them swing bats, throw punches, and roll bowling balls down an on-screen alley — not to mention vanquish aliens and save the universe. WD PASSPORT PORTABLE HARD DRIVE We don’t know whether to be amazed or depressed that every last photo, song, letter, and poem we created can be stored on something the size of a McDonald’s apple pie. But the WD Passport, a 3.7-ounce portable hard drive from Western Digital Corp., puts a staggering amount of storage — 250GB for the top-of-the-line $200 unit — in your pocket. Perfect for road warriors — and anyone who wants to keep every vital file with them at all times — the Passport is powered through your PC’s USB port, so there is no AC adapter to lug around. (The downside: Your laptop’s battery will drain faster.) The backup software that comes with the drive will encrypt your files, too — so you can lose your drive without compromising your data.
Alan Cohen is a freelance writer based in New York. This article first appeared in The American Lawyer , an ALM publication.

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