Image: Mylo
Dirk Lammers  /  AP
Sony is betting that teens and twentysomethings will shell out $350 for the Mylo, a personal communicator that connects to the Internet through a Wi-Fi hotspot.
updated 9/20/2006 8:28:06 PM ET 2006-09-21T00:28:06

Sony Corp.'s latest effort to capture the hearts, minds and money of teens and twentysomethings is a Web browser, messaging program, wireless phone and digital music player all rolled into a handheld gadget that goes by the name Mylo.

The features can be found on just about any midrange cell phone these days, but there's one key difference: The Mylo works on any Wi-Fi wireless Internet connection, so you can surf the Web or chat on campus, at the coffee shop, in the bookstore or wherever there's an 802.11b hotspot.

Mylo — short for "my life online" — is a bit pricey at $350, but it could be a money-saver if you count how much cellular carriers charge for data services. (Some Wi-Fi hotspot operators charge, though many do not.)

At just over 5 ounces, the Mylo feels like an undersized game controller, with a bright 2-by-1 1/2-inch backlit screen that packs 320-by-240 pixels of sharp resolution. A standard thumb keyboard slides out from below, perhaps as a nod to those of us a tad older than the device's target market.

It boots up quickly. Ask it to access the Internet and it'll list available open connections and secure ones needing a password or network key. Each connection can be registered, so you'll soon develop a list of favorite hotspots as you cruise around town. JiWire's worldwide hotspot directory is included for those who don't know where to go.

Once online, it's easy to contact a friend on Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo Messenger, Google Inc.'s Google Talk or Skype, eBay Inc.'s Voice-over-Internet-Protocol service. No such luck if your pal is on AOL Instant Messenger, the most popular IM service at home and work in the U.S., or Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Messenger.

The standard keyboard layout makes chatting a snap for anyone who's taken a typing course, though it might be an adjustment for those used to a phone keypad. Emoticons, profiles and ignore functions are accessible through the Mylo's option button next to the screen.

The "What's Up" screen pulls all messaging contacts together. Friends show up as available regardless of the service they're using.

Built-in Skype software is as close as the Mylo gets to being a phone. Sign up for a free account and you can call other Skype members and, at least through the end of the year, dial any telephone number in the U.S. or Canada for free. For an extra fee you can get a SkypeIn number so anyone can call you using a traditional phone number. (Google Talk on the Mylo is limited to text chatting.)

The Mylo ships with an earbud headset and microphone, but Sony didn't include it with my review unit, so I could only test the device using its built-in microphone and speaker. They sufficed during a Skype call from a quiet office, but the headset would be a must in a crowded coffee house.

Web surfing through the Mylo's Opera Web browser is functional, but I've yet to find a handheld device that makes it easy to view a page designed to look good on a 19-inch monitor.

The Mylo tries hard, offering three text-size settings and a 50-to-150 percent zoom range. It also can toggle between normal mode, which requires a lot of horizontal scrolling, and fit-to-screen mode, which does a lot of squeezing. Navigation was clunky, but I was able to bring up most Web sites. Pages that rely on Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash animation software proved troublesome.

The device also has no built in e-mail software, though you can pull up messages from Web-based services offered by Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

The Mylo's other main attraction is its multimedia capability, which can be used when no wireless hotspot is available or while you're chatting and surfing.

It boasts a gigabyte of internal storage for music, photos and MPEG-4 video files. It also provides a slot to add a Memory Stick, but it's tricky to get open. There's no built-in support for other memory formats.

The photo browser can handle JPEG, PNG and BMP files, but unlike many cell phones, the Mylo doesn't have a built-in camera.

The music player can handle MP3, ATRAC as well as secured and unsecured Windows Media Audio files, but not anything purchased at Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store.

The placement of a single control for play, stop, rewind and forward is fine, but the volume controls on the lower back of the device are awkward.

Songs can be transferred to the Mylo through a USB cable, but I couldn't test that functionality as Sony didn't include that cable with the review unit. I was able to upload a few MP3 files to the device through Skype and got them to play.

The Mylo also includes a basic text editor that can be used to create a shopping list or take notes during class. Text files can be transferred to a computer through the USB cable or Memory Stick, or sent over the Internet through e-mail or one of the chat programs.

Sony says the lithium-ion battery provides 3 1/2 hours of Internet call time, about 8 hours of video and up to 45 hours of music playback.

The device also allows users to wirelessly hook up with other nearby Mylo owners to trade messages or stream MP3s.

The Mylo is the latest device looking to blur the lines between phones, computers and media players. It's a cute gadget that does what it sets out to do, but is it worth investing in a device that's only fully functional at Wi-Fi hotspots?

Students living and going to class on a Wi-Fi-enabled campus might think so, but $350 is a hefty initial investment even if you're saving on monthly access fees.

The Mylo's future might depend on whether it becomes known as the next cool gotta-have gizmo.

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