Sporty and rugged keyboard and mice

Some product designers draw inspiration from the oddest items, as evidenced by mice that were developed with sneakers and Jeeps in mind. Both are inspirations behind new notebook mice recently announced by Microsoft Corp. and Logitech Inc., which have external rubber grips that make the mice rugged and easier to hold. While both companies continue to push the envelope in peripherals, Moscow-based Art Lebedev Studio could steal the keyboard spotlight with Optimus, which has OLED (organic light-emitting display) keys instead of printed keys. Also of note is the rugged T10, a portable music player from IRiver America.

iRiver sports MP3s

IRiver's new T10 music player has an antishock rubber guard to absorb impact during exercise. It weighs 453 grams and can be used while working out in a gym, riding bikes or running, said Jan Tarzia, an iRiver spokeswoman. "It's lightweight, and you can clip it onto yourself. Because it's a flash player, it has no running pieces," which makes it portable and usable during physical activity, she said.

The company didn't respond to queries about its warranty in case it dropped during exercise and broke, though Tarzia said the T10 could take drops from "countertop height."

The T10 can play MP3, Ogg Vorbis (OGG), Windows Media Audio (WMA) files and audio files from online stores supporting Microsoft's Janus digital rights management system, including Napster, MusicNow, Wal-Mart Stores and Audible Inc.

It also functions as a radio and voice recorder and works on one AA battery. It costs US$149.99 and US$199.99 for 512MB and 1GB versions, respectively.

Truly waterproof

Apple Computer's iPods can be used in water with the waterproof OtterBox, new series of cases announced by Otter Products. The OtterBox case clamps on to iPod and is armed with a rubber seal to keep air and water away from the iPod, said Kristin Pribble, an Otter Products spokeswoman. OtterBoxes can take iPods safely up to 3 feet (1 meter) underwater, she said.

OtterBox cases are available for the iPod, iPod mini and iPod shuffle. A case for the iPod nano should come in December, Pribble said. "Apple is notorious for keeping things a secret till they release the product," she said, which prevented Otter Products from developing a nano case in advance.

The $29.95 OtterBox for iPod shuffle weighs 82 grams. The $49.95 OtterBox for iPod Mini fits the 4GB and 6GB models and weighs 119 grams. The $49.95 OtterBox for iPod fits the 30GB, 40GB and 60GB iPods and weighs 167 grams, while the 20GB version is 150 grams.

If an iPod is used underwater with OtterBox, it needs waterproof headphones, which can be purchased at http://www.waterproofcases.net/headphones.html. More information about the OtterBox cases is available at http://www.otterbox.com/products/ipod_cases/index.htm

Sneaker mice

I kept calling it the "sneaker mouse" until Microsoft officials reminded me that it was called the Notebook Optical Mouse 3000. The wired mouse has textured rubber side grips, which make it easy to hold on to, said Brett Kelleran, group product line manager at Microsoft. "It got its inspiration from athletic sneakers," he said.

The rubber design was not only appealing, but the mouse felt more solid than a traditional mouse. "It has a friendly and engaging design," and will have an emotional attachment for people, he said.

It also has a taillight in the middle of the mouse that serves no technological purpose. "The blue LED light at the end is pretty much for looks," said Microsoft spokeswoman, though the light could come in handy in the dark.

The $35 mouse will become available in October.

Sporty mice

Taking a page from Jeep and other rugged equipment, Logitech created the solid V400 Laser Cordless Mouse for notebooks. The US$49.99 mouse, targeted at mobile users who may drop mice by mistake, has exterior rubber rails to ensure it can survive impact, said Kate Brinks, a Logitech spokeswoman said. The rubber exterior also enhances its sporty look, she said.

Its laser-tracking abilities also help mobile users with better tracking, Brinks said. "We felt that many people are taking laptops to unconventional space such as Wi-Fi hotspots. [The V400] can track from different surfaces," she said.

The V400 uses two lasers to measure frequency changes of reflected light while the mouse is moving on a surface. That helps the mouse track the surface better than traditional laser mice which take pictures of the surface, the company said. Dual laser technology makes the mouse smaller, quicker and more accurate than traditional laser mice, the company said.

The ambidextrous mouse has a battery indicator on top that blinks when the battery is running out, Brinks said. The 2.4Ghz receiver, which snaps into the middle of the mouse, allows it to work at a 30-foot range. The US$50 mouse runs on one AA battery and will become available in the near future, though company officials couldn't provide an exact date.

The Optimus keyboard

The innovative Optimus is a keyboard in which every key is an OLED screen. Its designer, Moscow-based Art Lebedev Studio, hopes to replace printed keys with screens on each key that can display characters and switch between scripts that a user wants to type in -- for example, the display keys will be able to switch from English to the Cyrillic script for users who want to type in Russian. The key screens will also handle three other scripts -- ancient Greek, Georgian and Arabic. The OLED keys can also be programmed to display color icons that make software like Adobe Systems' Photoshop and games like Quake easier to use, according to the studio. This open-source keyboard is still in the works and the studio on its Web site says that "it will cost less than a good mobile phone." It is expected to ship in 2006, and more information is available at: http://www.artlebedev.com/portfolio/optimus/.

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