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George offers cool 'i' gadget for iPods

The Baltimore Sun

If you're among the 100 million iPod owners who won't be buying an Apple iPhone when it goes on sale tomorrow, don't worry. There are plenty of gadgets that can satisfy your desire to part with bundles of cash for an improved "i" experience.

In fact, for the same $600 that Macolytes are spending on high-end iPhones, you can engage the services of George, an elegant if pricey speaker dock with one of the coolest remote controls I've seen.

Yes, that's a $600 accessory for an iPod whose list price tops out at $350.

Only in iAmerica.

Physically, George looks like one of those fancy tabletop radios from Bose, Boston Acoustics or Tivoli that you see in high-end gift catalogs next to the air purifiers and indoor putting greens. The dock is manufactured by Chestnut Hill Sound of Newton, Mass.

The 14-by-9-by-5-inch white box encloses a system of amplified speakers with grey mesh front pieces and a detachable control panel with a backlit liquid crystal display.

Slip your hard drive-based iPod or flash-based Nano into a slot on the top, tap the power bar, and George will automatically download the table of contents from your iPod into its memory.

This is where a big chunk of the $600 goes -- George does not use a dumb, credit-card style remote control, but a nifty little detachable computer that emulates your iPod's display and controls -- albeit with a real, twist-and-tap knob and four buttons to navigate through your music collection.

Start twisting, select a playlist or album and out comes your iTunes collection through George's speakers. More about these later.

Now we get really cool. Pull on the top of the control panel and it separates from the speaker unit.

You can take it across the room, sit down in a chair and take complete control of the iPod, with the same screen display you'd have if the iPod itself were in your hand.

The remote also has controls for an AM/FM tuner, with buttons for eight preset stations. An external loop antenna is part of the package -- a nice touch.

But the coolest thing is a remote charging dock for George's remote, which adds $50 to the $550 price of the basic George. With the charging dock, you can put the speaker unit on a shelf, put the charging dock on your night table, and slip George into it.

Voila! George becomes a very functional, compact, bedside radio/alarm clock -- but the sound comes from the speakers across the room. Instead of waking up to NPR or some horrid talk show, you can choose a wake-up tune from your iPod. It's quite a step up from the sound of an average alarm clock, and it doesn't occupy half of your night table.

This is one of the best implementations of a remote control I've seen, and it would almost make George worth the price. The one problem I had with George is its sound quality -- a pretty important shortcoming in a gadget that costs as much as a good home theater sound system.

George's dual, front-facing coaxial speakers, combined with a downward-facing, four-inch subwoofer produced a clear and pleasant sound. But there wasn't much oomph to the bass compared to other sets of its size that I've heard.

The tone control was awkward, compared with the graphical equalizers and presets for different styles of music that are available in other devices. George required one screen to pick a range of bass or treble and another to adjust the volume for that range. Altogether, it provided the control of a six-band equalizer, but the operation was too complex.

More to the point, the $40, self-powered bookshelf speakers that I bought for my wife's iPod at a computer show delivered a more pleasing overall sound than George's. In the upper ranges, George had a slight advantage, in the lower ranges, the cheapo speakers won.

George's back panel does include an audio output. This allows you to use George as a pre-amp and direct the output to an existing stereo set. That, of course, would turn George into nothing more than a $600 remote control alarm clock -- and that may be a bit too pricey even for the most devout Macolyte.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a clever iPod docking solution for a bedroom, office or den with superb remote control and an excellent radio and alarm clock -- and if you don't demand a heavy bass line in your music -- George delivers.

It would be a great buy at half the price -- at $600, though, it's what my editor calls "a Maraschino cherry for the guy who has everything."

For more information, visit

Department of clarification: In my review of Apple's Safari Web browser for Windows, I observed that Safari's text appeared rougher around the edges than fonts in native Windows browsers, such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

That brought a long and detailed letter from a Mac enthusiast who insisted that this wasn't a bug in Safari, but a feature.

As he explained it, Apple renders fonts on the screen so that they will duplicate the text in print -- an important feature in the graphics and desktop publishing trades that the Mac dominates.

He said Microsoft uses a more generic face when it renders Windows pages. The text appears smoother and possibly more readable on the screen than it does in Safari. But when you print a Web page, the line endings and hyphenation might not exactly match what you see on the screen.

I tested this theory with a couple of test pages in each browser. Sure enough, the line breaks on the Internet Explorer pages didn't always match the screen. The Safari pages did.

You learn something every day.

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