- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

It's been about 22 years since I "invented" the Walkman, and my conviction hasn't changed: having audio with you while walking around or riding public transit makes sense.

A clarification: My 1978 "invention" consisted of plugging a (mono) earphone into a jack on a small portable cassette player/ radio about the size of a paperback book. A year later, Sony Corp. of Japan invented the real Walkman, which has since become a byword for portable music, and in stereo no less.

Now, of course, the Walkman is threatened, in some respects, by a digital revolution. Music can be found just about everywhere on line, downloaded to a hard drive and presto! written out on a CD or piped into a portable player. Add digital signal processor-based headphones and the experience can rival a concert hall.

The meanderings of the Napster story, like the recent presidential election, may take some time to work out. Will the courts ultimately rule in favor of "peer-to-peer" file sharing over the Internet? Will the deal Napster Inc. made with the owners of BMG Music expand to other major record labels? Will you be able to subscribe to downloadable music services that bring Britney Spears or operatic soprano Renee Fleming to your e-mail inbox?

Some of the answers are beginning to emerge, along with the computer technology to support them. The bottom line: You will be able to get the music you want almost any time you want it.

One good example of this is the $399 Uproar, a PCS-capable wireless phone offered by Samsung via Sprint PCS that twins an MP3-format music player with a rather capable cell phone. As other reviewers have noted, the price is about equal to that of separate high-end phones and MP3 players.

While Sprint expects to offer a subscription music service that will bring the hits to your hand wirelessly, at present such transfers come via a PC. However, you can also create and download "playlists" of music from your PC to the device via a Universal Serial Bus, or USB, port.

The headset that accompanies the Uproar is more like a doctor's stethoscope than a normal cell phone headset. There are two "buds," one for each ear, that connect through a special jack on the phone. The connection allows you to use voice commands to dial phone numbers, and a button on the headset cord both controls the player functions (start/stop, next song, previous song) and overrides the music when a call comes in or has to be made.

In operation, the phone seems to work very well, although I've yet to train it to dial my "mother" when I say that word.

But having music in the same package has its advantages. The other day, I spent more than a little "quality time" at the local Department of Motor Vehicles office. It's not as much fun as it once was. Having the music let me rock out, albeit softly, while waiting for things to happen. The stereo quality is exceptional, and the controls are easy to operate.

I would not, however, want to have both sides of the headset plugged in while driving: many states offer stiff penalties to those wearing such headsets. One ear plugged in is OK; two are a hazard, they feel. (Would that such laws were better enforced, but I digress.)

Using the supplied version of MusicMatch software (available now in Mac and PC versions at www.musicmatch.com) to manage my MP3 files and load 'em on to the phone was a sheer delight. The software is a masterful way to organize, find and "program" one's music collection, and it works wonderfully with the Samsung Uproar phone.

Now, there are limitations to the phone you can store only about an hour's worth of music and other critics have mentioned that the device apparently won't support soon-coming higher-speed wireless services aimed at delivering digital music directly. But as Hubert Humphrey once said, "people don't live in the long run, they live every day." For now, the Samsung Uproar is a neat little device that I have no trouble recommending.

One other point to consider: the 64KB of storage for audio files might well contain more than one hour's worth of spoken recordings. Talking books, and services such as Audiobox.com, might well be used to provide two hours or so of content on such a device, making a plane trip or train ride all the more bearable.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com.

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