Remember the ghetto blaster? The street-savvy, over-your-shoulder, does-it-all tape deck that could pump out tunes wherever you wanted and was the darling of students.
It's back; Sony's latest makes a similar stab at streetwise with its RDH-SK8iP, but despite its iPod prowess it can't quite match the 'blaster in some key areas. There's no batteries and no handle to carry the SK8, and nothing ground-breaking about its design; two 30W speakers dominate the product either side of a small iPod dock, although there's something strange and very colourful going on in between.
The SK8 introduces the idea of customisation. At its most basic this approach entails two cardboard fascias sporting reversible - and very colourful - designs that can be swapped at will. To fit them, simply twist the two speaker cones anti-clockwise and a transparent plastic shield flops off.
There's a total of four designs in the box, though their graffiti-esque style is perhaps a little over-designed and hopeful; can a major global conglomerate really second-guess a teenager's individuality?
We sincerely hope not, which is why Sony has teamed-up with www.wrappz.com (a company that offers "skins" for almost any gadget you can think of) to offer tailor-made designs. As well as a relatively small selection of stock backgrounds and images (everything from leopard skin and camouflage to flags, Sean Connery and Madonna), it's possible to upload your own pictures, add text and generally design the thing yourself. And while it's all rather easy to do, it does cost £12.49 and we're sure that anyone willing to make their own collage can do a better job with a printer, some scissors and a Pritt Stick.
Away from frivolity, the SK8 behaves without much fuss. Operation of an iPod or iPhone from the cute remote is impressive. Menus can be skipped through using the directional keypad with track skip, play/pause and volume also included. The SK8 can also charge an Apple gadget when docked, which could render pointless a dedicated charger in your home.
The tactile, though slightly too small, remote also includes an "audio in" switcher. Those without iPods or an iPhone aren't completely left out. A simple audio input on the unit's rear means a cheap cable from Maplins will connect any audio device, though the remote control will then be merely a volume adjuster.
Aside from the novel design options it's volume that proves the SK8's main function. Its 12cm stereo speakers are each capable of sending 30W of power around the room, plenty enough for a party or everyday use. The sound quality is rather basic. It goes loud, for sure, and there's enough treble detail evident in vocals, though bass can be a touch disjointing. Most disappointing is the SK8's fixed audio parameters, which means that sound levels cannot be adjusted.
We sometimes wonder if the digital music revolution hasn't short-changed the current generation of music lovers. Okay, an MP3 is eminently portable and exchangeable, but too many companies are pumping out iPod docks and the like with very little thought to old and new sources of free music - the radio and the Internet.
The lack of any kind of Bluetooth streaming or internet connectivity is a shame, though a couple of pounds spent on a cable should mean you can attach a PC or Mac to bring radio and online music such as Spotify alive - though doing so does, in turn, render the SK8's iPod dock rather pointless. That said, you'll still be able to use those sorts of apps on your iPhone or iPod touch.
Those latter features aren't missed too much despite our expectation that any gadget over £100 should be able to get online.
In terms of iPod compatibility the SK8 does just enough. Although any model can be used with the iPod dock without adapters, they do lend a bit more stability. Two are included in the dock, for the original iPhone and for the 3G model (dock numbers 12 and 15); if you need anything else you'll have to buy them yourself direct from Apple (including one for the new iPhone 4).
Sony's SK8 is an iPod dock with beefed-up, yet far from delicate sound. Sadly it makes no use of FM nor DAB radio tuners, and doesn't include any kind of Bluetooth streaming or Wi-Fi internet access, but it's simple to use and can be customised; tart it up with tailor-made skins if you like, but you won't change the SK8's basic build.
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