SAN FRANCISCO – Two cute-as-a-button gadgets could soon find their way to your desk, though you'll be hard pressed to explain to your friends and co-workers why you "need" these desktop companions.
But let's be honest, in the world of personal electronics, needs often take a back seat to wants and desires.
To that end I give you the music-playing DJ Bear ($40) and a Wi-Fi-sensing plastic rabbit called Nabaztag ($150). They're both for fun, useful for downtime activities and guaranteed to generate reactions from co-workers.
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I made room on my desk for both to see whether the hare or the bear satisfied the senses most.
Inside that pocket is a short audio cable that snaps into the earphone minijack of any digital music player, such as my iPod Nano.
From there I simply turned on the bear's internal speaker system by pressing his left paw.
A green light in his right foot began to glow, letting me know DJ Bear was powered up. One press of the play button on the iPod and I was listening to "Couldn't Stand the Weather" by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
There are no other controls on the bear itself. Still, it's an alternative to firing up iTunes just to hear a few songs. Sure, it won't be confused with a high-end stereo, but then again it's only $40 — and cuddly.
DJ Bear, which feeds off of four AAA batteries, is a winner for the price.
I also tried out the Nabaztag, a 9-inch tall white plastic rabbit from a French company called Violet.
What does it do? The question is better put — what can't a Nabaztag do? ("Nabaztag" is Armenian for rabbit.)
The Nabaztag can — through a speaker, its twirling ears or lights — read your e-mails, tell you if your stocks are rising or falling, read you the headlines from your favorite RSS feed, tell you the time, give you a weather forecast and more.
The setup required a little more brainpower than DJ Bear. I powered up a bunny via the provided AC adapter.
The Nabaztag has multicolored lights beneath its plastic hide, so his nose and belly began to light up with glowing yellow spots as it awoke for the first time.
It only works with home wireless networks. To get the rabbit up and running after I turned it on, I sat down at my PC and typed a local-network address in the Web browser. All went well: I was able to locate my bunny right away.
Three green lights across his belly told me he was ready for action.
From there I created an account at the Nabaztag home page, and began to configure the rabbit.
I wanted him to read me the headlines at Slashdot.org, tell me the time at the top of each hour and read me e-mails from other Nabaztag owners whom I would soon meet.
Nabaztag handled each task just fine, twirling his magnetically attached plastic ears to alert me when he was about to speak.
The voice was a tad robotic while reading me snarky Slashdot headlines, but it was understandable and there are a healthy selection of male and female voices to choose from. Nabaztag can read and speak English and French.
The lights also can blink to indicate there's a voice message coming. And you can set up a signature (in the form of a sequence of flashing lights) to indicate to fellow bunny owners that a message is coming from you.
The bunny's belly lights also can be tweaked to display a certain color combination for different weather forecasts — yellow for sunny and blue for rain. I preferred to look out the window instead of memorizing bunny weather code.
Nabaztag owners can send each other music files, such as MP3s from their computer uploaded to their online account. The rabbit's voice sounded a bit better than the music, probably due to the small speaker covered by a thick layer of plastic rabbit hide.
Non-Nabaztag owners also can send you e-mail messages or audio files for your bunny to read and play, though they'll have to set up an account through the company's Web site.
The free services with your Nabaztag membership include weather reports, a talking clock and "Nabcasts," which are a slowly growing number of podcasts designed by like-minded Nabaztag owners.
And for about $7.50 a month, you can sign up to be a "Full Friend Rabbit," which gives you the ability to broadcast your own Nabcast, receive personalized stock market information and a few other features.
Nabaztag is plenty smart, but at $150 falls a bit short of a must-have desktop accessory.