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PRODUCT REVIEW

There’s Music in My Shades

Sunglasses and cool have always had an intimate relationship so it’s not surprising that gadget makers have started grafting the coolest way to listen to music to the fashionable accoutrement.

Until recently, though, you had to pay a pretty penny for haut hip. Oakley — the king of shades for tony active types like professional baseball players — broke into the market with a product called the Thump.

The Thump is a tour de force in technology: an exquisite pair of sunglasses with a superlative digital music player (DMP) that will have you rocking and bopping from the second you press the play button.

And its price will shock like an arctic bath. Depending on the color and memory size, Thumps run from US$299 to $545.

An Economic Alternative

But don’t despair. Some recent entries into the DMP-cum-shades arena have less daunting prices, among them the Fio from Global American Technologies.

A 128-megabyte Fio sells for $154 and 51- megabyte version for $299. And while the Fio isn’t in the same league as the Thump, it delivers yeoman performance.

The Fio has a pair of polarized, shatterproof lenses with a coating to block UV rays from reaching your peepers.

The product’s frames are lightweight and very comfortable to wear. They’re made from nylon. The material is flexible and not only adjusts to your head size, but “remembers” it from wearing to wearing.

Easy-to-Reach Controls

Controls for the DMP are on its right side. There are three buttons on top of the frame: one for randomizing and deleting songs; one for toggling between voice recording and digital music mode; and one for controlling power to the unit, playing it and pausing it.

On the side of the frame are four LEDs. They tell you what’s going on inside the DMP. A red one lights up when the unit is charging and another when the power is on. A yellow one signals the unit is recording and a blue one that the device is in music mode.

On the bottom of the frame there are two controls. One decreases the volume and skips to a previously played song; the other increases the volume and skips forward through the songs on the unit.

Although the buttons are small, they’re widely spaced, which makes accessing them easier.

Geeky Earbuds

Adding voice recording to the product is an interesting touch, although I’m not sure most folks, other than James Bond, would have much use for the application.

The Fio is sleekly designed until you get to its earbuds. They dangle from wires on the side of the frames. Not only does this seem like a fragile arrangement–although “piglet” curls at the point where the wires connect to the frames helps reduce the force on the wires when they’re pulled — but it makes the hoods look just a bit geeky.

Loading songs into the device was facile. A USB cable with a mini-plug on one end is included with the unit. The plug makes the cable easier to use than those with the small USB-B connector.

A disk containing drivers for the unit is included with the Fio, but I didn’t need it with a PC running Windows XP. The OS treated the device like another disk drive. I could simply drag songs from my computer to the Fio.

Cool for Less Cash

The unit plays MP3, WMA and ADPCM files. It won’t play WMA (DRM) files, which are the kind typically sold at online music stores.

A rule of thumb for digital tunes is that one minute of song takes up about one megabyte of memory. Using that rule, a 128-megabyte Fio would hold around 40 tracks.

Battery life for the unit is rated by the manufacturer at 8.5 hours. Recharging the Fio’s polymer lithium-ion battery is done through a computer’s USB port, although an optional AC charger is available.

To protect your musical shades when you’re not wearing them, you can stash them in the sleek black case packaged with them. The case is hard on the outside to guard the glasses from bumps and knocks while moving about and cushioned with foam on the inside. It even has a belt loop so you can keep the case close to your body and not somewhere it can be misplaced.

If cool’s your thing and cash is not, the Fio is a respectable alternative to more pricey competitors.


John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].


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