Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

Image

A few weeks ago, Switched On noted the challenges that even wildly popular, highly penetrated devices such as MP3 players and portable GPS devices have faced in the era of the converged device. Some of these devices, such as digital cameras, still hold on because of genuine advantages such as better image quality or optical zoom. For others devices, though, such as MP3 players and portable GPS devices, the grim news is that one of the main reasons consumers use them is to save smartphone battery life.

The high adoption of iPads by iPhone users has shown that there's room in people's lives for multiple convergent devices that use the same operating system.

The high adoption of iPads by iPhone users has shown that there's room in people's lives for multiple convergent devices that use the same operating system. The iPod touch -- by far the most popular smartplayer -- has found favor among those who want the features and apps of an iPhone but don't want to pay for a cellular data plan. The similarity of design between the iPhone and iPod touch virtually reduce buying the iPod touch to that of a backup battery for an iPhone user. It is more of an iPhone substitute than complement. And at $200, it may cost as much as an iPhone's subsidized price. In contrast, there may be more opportunity for the smartplayer as a second device among Android users where there is more variation and tradeoffs among handset features. And here, paradoxically, a device with lower-end specifications may be more desirable in that role than, say, the Galaxy Player 5.0 that Samsung released last year.

Take, for example, the Galaxy Player 3.6 that Samsung recently released. Its screen size is about the same as an iPhone's, but it is a more portable alternative to a behemoth such as the Galaxy Nexus or, of course, the Galaxy Note. The device is a suitable alternative to turning to a data-sucking smartphone for activities such as playing games, listening to music that has been sideloaded, downloaded or cached via apps such as TuneIn Pro, Rhapsody or Slacker, catching up on RSS feeds or Instapaper. It also works for istening to Audible audiobooks, creating notes or voice recordings (such as at a lecture or meeting), taking Instagram or Facebook-quality photos (at least outdoors as the device has no flash), or jotting items into an organization app such as Evernote or Wunderlist for later syncing. Indeed, using a device such as the Galaxy Player outside of an area blanketed in Wi-Fi is like a throwback to the sync and go era of PDAs.

Unlike the iPod touch, the Galaxy Player supports GPS, but while it may be a fine alternative to an MP3 player, there are not many offline navigation apps available for Android. One of the few Android third-party alternatives to Google Navigation from Navigon is not compatible with the Galaxy Player. On the other hand, Samsung is also reaching out to owners of its large-screened smartphone by enabling the Galaxy Player to act as a Bluetooth handset. That's right, if putting your Galaxy Note up against your face feels a bit like napping on a glass pillow, you can keep the pen-equipped Note in your (man-)purse and use the Galaxy Player to actually make your calls. As with a Bluetooth headset, this also has the advantage of letting you use the phone's screen as you talk.

At $150, the Galaxy Player is more expensive than most external batteries, but you probably wouldn't worry quite as much about it getting lost, stolen or destroyed as you might for a $300 top-of-the-line smartphone, particularly if you don't have your email or contacts on it because you're using your smartphone for that.



Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director and principal analyst of the NPD Connected Intelligence service at The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.

Acer Liquid Glow hits the FCC, keeps its secrets