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Crave Talk: Sony's thumb toy can't quite connect

Gorgeously rounded and stuffed with features, Sony's Mylo evokes a puppyish desire to be picked up and played with. But will it win more than just puppy love?

It would make a good pub quiz question: who, what or why is Mylo? Was it Mylo T. Farnsworth, the spotty red-haired kid on I Love Lucy? Is it 'Apple' in Greek? Is it a portable Wi-Fi device from Sony, introduced in the middle of the Apple developers' conference?

No, yes (cheeky!) and yes.

The Mylo has got a pocket-sized combination of a colour screen, a slide-out keyboard and a gigabyte of memory that's supposedly there to run My Life Online (hence the name -- honest, guv'nor). It's designed to let you send instant messages from wireless hotspots, the office and home, as well as playing media and Web browsing. But why does the Mylo exist?

It's not very Sony. For a start, it has other people's software on it -- Skype, Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk -- and the music player lets you drag and drop ordinary MP3 files and you can even share music over Wi-Fi. Gone are the days when you had to use a half-baked Sony-only service stuffed to the gills with poisonous DRM. Furthermore, the thing's running open-source software -- Linux -- and speaks Java. It's almost as if the company wants you to use it, rather than configure it as a one-way pipeline between your wallet and theirs.

Most curiously, it seems to be in direct competition with one of the directions Sony is pushing the PlayStation Portable. If you wanted a portable, Wi-Fi enabled, Web-capable, communicating media player, you could choose either and be happy. You wouldn't choose both.

In one respect though, the Mylo is a classic Sony device. It is rumoured that the device came out of one of Sony's American research labs and was developed in complete secrecy from the rest of the company. Apparently several divisions of Sony had similar projects on the go and are now furious. I wouldn't normally give a single-sourced piece of gossip much credence, but it fits the company's MO so well that it's impossible to discount. Every division of Sony regards every other division with indifference or active malice, seeing them as the real competition. That's why so much never happens, such as the MiniDisc never being seriously developed as a portable computer data storage system.

Will the Mylo sell? There have been lots of attempts at the portable communicator market, ranging from the cheap and focused Zipit to the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Most haven't been very successful, and since the Mylo can't replace the mobile phone (it doesn't have access to cellular networks), it turns into something else you have to carry around. While there is no European launch date or price set, the American ticket of $350 (£185) seems awfully steep, especially for its primary market of young hipsters. That's within a sniff of the 60GB iPod: something you do want to carry around as well as your mobile.

We think the Mylo is not quite there. It's too complex for a single-purpose gizmo, too expensive to replace anything you're currently using for this purpose, and is too inflexible to be a reliable go-anywhere communicator. Altogether, it does nothing quite well enough, except queer the pitch for the rest of Sony. Although, perhaps that was the business plan all along. -Rupert Goodwins