Every Wednesday Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
The giants of the consumer electronics industry exercised exceptional restraint in veering beyond established product categories at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show back in January. Philips emerged as one of the few companies willing to court the chaos of convergence with the PSS110, which is 80 percent miniature boombox, 15 percent alarm clock, and 5 percent iPod accessory. It's also 100 percent digital albeit with a paltry 256 MB of flash memory and no flash card slot. As white as a polar bear in a wedding dress, the PSS110 promised to add a spontaneous soundtrack in any space for up to ten hours. Now that it's hit store shelves, is this bit-bound bantam boombox a binaural bust?
The PSS110 experience starts out edgy enough. Philips ships the device charged from the factory with "play-through" packaging that allows shoppers to hear the device within its plastic cocoon. Unfortunately for anyone hoping to get a sense of the PSS110's sound quality, though, the speakers are not exposed, so the best one will hear is a muffled version of what the device can output. Of the four 128 kbps MP3 songs Philips includes on the device, at least one would not make it onto the public airwaves without some strategic volume adjustments. Yes, while the history of consumer electronics includes many devices that have moved consumers to exclaim profanities, the PSS110 may be the first to beat them to the punch before they even tear into the blister packaging.