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Wi-Fi item brings versatility to the younger masses

Sony Corp.'s latest effort to capture the hearts, minds and money of teens and 20-somethings 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 more than 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.

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.

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 United States or Canada for free.

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.

Mylo 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.

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 bought at Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store.

The Mylo also includes a basic text editor that can be used to create a shopping list or take notes during class.

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?

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