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A. Sorry in advance for the wishy-washiness of this reply, but it all depends on your priorities. Do you prefer high-quality audio or ease of use? And will dropping an extra $20 or so make a big difference on your financial outlook? Let's look at all the options, and pick apart their pluses and minuses.
The two major players in the iPod accessories realm are from Griffin Technology (griffintechnology.com) and Belkin (belkin.com). The latter was the first to offer an iPod voice recorder, with the debut last year of the, uh, Belkin Voice Recorder for iPod. (Note to Belkin: There must be a gazillion unemployed liberal-arts grads who could gin up a catchier name. Hire one.) Griffin's iTalk followed this past April.
Before you get too excited about entering the ever-so-exciting world of voice recording, keep in mind that both products work only with the snazziest iPodsspecifically the "third-generation" models that boast iPod software version 2.1.
In terms of appearance and performance, the Belkin and the iTalk are pretty similar. Each one's simply a little box that jacks directly into the headphone port, and records audio with a built-in microphone. They also feature miniature speakers, so you can play back whatever you've just recorded.
Mr. Roboto's lab test consisted of using the Belkin and iTalk to record a person speaking 30 feet away in an indoor environment, a few minutes of personal dictation, and a tin-drum performance on the 14th Street 2-3 subway platform. In terms of recording quality, the iTalk won the first two rounds hands down; the subway experiment was a wash, as the performer's easy-listening Bob Marley-slash-Steely Dan medley sounded muddy through both devices. The iTalk's built-in speaker also delivered much crisper sound during playback.
Given that the iTalk retails for $40, compared to $60 for the Belkin, this seems like a no-brainer. But keep in mind that neither device produces especially high-quality recordings, a limitation that can be ascribed in part to the iPod's lack of recording controls, and in part to the overall crappiness of the mics. Unlike the Belkin, the iTalk lets you use an external micyet another point for the Griffin folks. But if you really want the sharpest sound, it's worth checking out Belkin's Universal Microphone Adapter ($40). In combination with a rock-solid external micMr. Roboto used the Sony ECM-F01the adapter provided the best audio quality of the lot, especially for indoor recording.
Of course, a serviceable mic will run you another $50 at least, pushing the real cost of Belkin's just-released gizmo to $90. Unless you're the sort of audiophile who enjoys monologuing cocktail party guests on the finer points of ProTools, the iTalk will make you a happy camper when all's said and done.
With apologies to Homer Simpson and his wisdom on the power of doughnuts, let Mr. Roboto quip, "The Japanese: Is there anything they can't do?" Last week, Tokyo's Takara Co. announced the Dream Workshop, a foot-tall gadget aimed at helping stressed-out businessmen have the most pleasant dreams possible. The user simply places a keepsake photo in the cradle, chooses a mood-enhancing musical snippet, and dozes off. Throughout the night, the $136 Dream Workshop broadcasts soothing mantras timed to coincide with the intervals at which REM sleep is most likely. Alas, it'll be a Japan-only offering for some time; if you're interested, keep on checking i4u.com to see if it's available on the gray market.
Though Macs are less susceptible than PCs to the horrors of spyware, they ain't necessarily immune. If you're too lazy to poke around your cookies in search of no-good nuggets, it's worth investing in Aladdin Systems' Internet Cleanup 2.0 (aladdinsys.com, $30). The software includes a pretty nifty pop-up blocker, as well as an "electronic shredder" that completely obliterates your deleted info. Just in case you're, y'know, paranoid. Not that there's any reason to be. Certainly not.