It's a common dilemma of the MP3 age: You've got your entire music collection on your computer, but you don't want to be sitting at your keyboard to switch songs. That's where the Hercules Tunes Explorer Wireless comes in. The device is essentially a remote control that lets you access your iTunes library on a Mac or a Windows PC from anywhere in the room. While similar devices have long been available, the Hercules offers two advantages: it has an LCD readout, so you can navigate your music collection as you would on an iPod, and its $40 street price is dirt cheap.
The Tunes Explorer is a two-part system. A small wireless transceiver dongle plugs into the USB port of your PC or Mac (it basically looks like a slightly oversize USB thumbdrive). The dongle interfaces with the Tunes Explorer remote. The 4.25x2.33x0.75-inch (HWD) remote is pretty basic. The front face offers a centered, five-way directional pad (forward, rewind, play/pause, menu/back, and select); volume up/down buttons are nearby, but the lack of a mute key was a disappointing oversight. Above the buttons is a four-line, backlit LCD screen. For better or worse, the onscreen menus are navigated not by the front D-pad, but rather by the BlackBerry-style scroll wheel found on the right-hand side. Below the scroll wheel is a keylock switch for avoiding unwanted commands while transporting the remote. Around back is the battery compartment--it's powered by two AAAs. There's no power button per se; the remote turns on when you touch any of the buttons, and it will go to sleep after a few minutes of nonuse. The remote is functional enough, but it has a cheap flimsy feel; the fact that the select button on our review sample was slightly off axis didn't exactly inspire confidence.
Setting up the Tunes Explorer is pretty straightforward. After installing the included software, pop in the USB dongle (a little extension cable is provided for USB ports located in tight spaces), then sync it with the remote by holding down the select button. The software should then automatically boot up your music management software of choice: iTunes (on Windows or Mac) or Windows Media Player or RealPlayer (on Windows only)--we tested all but the RealPlayer option. We used iTunes on a Windows XP machine. Once it booted up, we could use the Tunes Explorer to navigate our music collection, just as if we were sitting at the PC: playlists, songs, genres, albums, artists, and the like. As one-handed navigation goes, the remote was straightforward--use the scroll wheel to roll through menus, depress it to enter a submenu, and--just like an iPod--press Menu to back out. That said, anybody used to the smooth and intuitive iPod clickwheel will find that the Tunes Explorer remote falls short.