Livespeakr portable speaker system, by Digital Group Audio, is a small and compact speaker system that can be transformed into different positions for iPod and iPhone users.
The scoop: Livespeakr portable speaker system, by Digital Group Audio, about $100.
What it is: Like last week's i2i folding portable speakers, the Livespeakr system is a small and compact speaker system that can be transformed into different positions for iPod and iPhone users. The system is designed for all generations of the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPod Classic models, as the connection is through the headphone audio jack (unlike larger iPod speakers that use the universal dock connector to also recharge the iPod's batteries). The speakers are powered by a battery that is recharged through an included power adapter.
Why it's cool: The expandable speakers can contract and rotate to let users view their iPod or iPhone in portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal mode). This is a huge benefit for users who want to watch videos – other speaker systems don't allow for this landscape-viewing mode. The Livespeakr system also is shielded against radio frequency interference, a plus for iPhone users. This lets you use the speakers as a speakerphone, something other portable systems don't seem to allow (the RF interference gets in the way).
The sound quality from the speakers was excellent – in my tests, I had to always keep the volume about 75% when listening with the speakers – if I went louder, I would get some audio crackling. The system would be perfect for individual use in an office, or mobile travelers who want to use this in a hotel room, for example.
The system's "Super Cradle" is designed to work with larger iPod and iPhone models. A kickstand on the back of the device gives you a little stand to set up the speakers vertically. Very nice.
Some caveats: You could use this system with smaller models like the Nano and/or Shuffle, but you wouldn't be able to use the cradle (your device would just be separate from the LiveSpeakr). Speaking of the cradle, on occasion the plastic part would disconnect from the speakers when rotating it or detaching my iPhone from it.
In addition, on my heavier iPhone 3G, the device became top-heavy with the kickstand enabled. At $100, it's a little pricey, compared with some portable $40 models (the i2i and Altec Lansing's Orbit MP3 speakers), but then again, those models don't have the rechargeable battery or the included power adapter. Those features, plus the RF shielding, may be worth the extra bucks to you.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five).
The scoop: Arc Mouse Special Edition, by Microsoft, about $50.
What it is: Microsoft's Arc Mouse, with its arc-like design and extreme portability (it folds up on itself, and the tiny 2.4GHz USB transceiver snaps onto the mouse for storage), gets a style upgrade with the Special Edition. The new version comes in four additional colors, including marine blue, deep olive green, eggplant purple and frost white. You can also buy the earlier editions, in black or red.
Why it's cool: In my original review of the mouse in last year's holiday gift guide, I wrote mostly about the design of the mouse and its portability, and that hasn't changed. What I've also noticed since using the mouse and the new version (I was sent the olive green version), was how smooth the mouse actions occur when using it without a mouse pad. When I'm working at home, I use my notebook on a coffee table and don't use a mouse pad. The flat surface of the other mice I've used tends to drag on the wood surface of the table. With the Arc Mouse, it's a lot smoother because there's less surface area on the bottom.
Some caveats: It runs on two AAA batteries and there's no on/off switch to save battery life. However, Microsoft does claim more than six months of battery life, and they include an LED indicator that glows red if the battery is about to die.
Grade: 4.5 stars.