- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

I’ve not often been confused with the epitome of “cool,” so the offer to test drive a pair of Oakley sunglasses ” with a little something extra ” was a bit of a surprise.

The “extra” is a built-in music player and 256-megabyte flash drive. For $495, you not only can look cool in Oakley’s new Thump sunglasses (with polarized lenses, no less), but you can also carry a few hours’ worth of music — if it’s the right kind — or perhaps a day’s worth of work to your home computer. (There’s also a 128-megabyte version, without polarized lenses, for $100 less.) Establishing a “need” for this is a bit tough: I can get a 20-gigabyte IPod from Apple Computer (or Hewlett-Packard) for $299 or an 512-megabyte IPod Shuffle that doubles the Thump’s top capacity for $99. Of sunglasses, there seem to be no end, of course.

So why put this all together? Well, I can think of a couple of valid reasons. One is that you don’t want to carry more than one item to the mountains or beach or wherever; or you want to have something easy to wear while on the bus or commuter train. Or you are a huge Oakley fan and this is just the newest way to express all that.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the sound is pretty amazing. Slip on the glasses, extend the tiny built-in ear buds to reach your ears, press the “play” button, and the sound is fantastic. I always enjoy it when I can hear something in a song that might otherwise be missed, and that’s what I heard when playing some Paul Simon: There were nuances and elements unheard when listening through a regular stereo. (A neat nonmusic feature: Thump’s lenses tilt up when you don’t want to view the world through a polarized hue.) Getting the music from a computer to the Thump flash drive wasn’t difficult at all: Connect the glasses via a special USB cable to a computer, and “Thump” is seen as another hard-disk drive. Songs (or data files) can be dragged and dropped onto the drive, which then can be disconnected from the computer.

The USB cable also trickles a small electrical charge to the Thump’s battery, which the maker says can deliver up to six hours of playback.

Those of us who are connected to Apple Computer’s ITunes service might encounter a catch, however: Although songs purchased and downloaded on ITunes can be easily placed on an IPod, those files are worthless on the Thump. Their protected format won’t work there.

This is, of course, part of the “digital rights management” scheme that made ITunes (and similar services) possible. But it can pose a problem for those who want to put those songs onto a neat pair of shades. The answer is to reach into your CD collection and pick songs from there: ITunes will happily play them, and you can “rip” them to any portable device you desire.

But the Thump, even at 256 megabytes, isn’t really designed to be a permanent repository for your songs. It’s something to wear on a hike or to a cafe, the beach or the ski club, I guess. Maybe you would wear it to the gym. In short, it’s an accessory that’s nice, but might not be your main music player.

If Oakley could’ve cut a deal with Apple to play ITunes files, this might have been the hottest product of 2005.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.


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