Tiny MP3 player falls short; CableStrip a solid choice

The scoop: The Kube 2, by Bluetree Electronics, about $40 (via Amazon.com)

What is it? Billed as the "smallest touch MP3 player in the world," the Kube 2 is a digital music player constructed in the shape of a cube (imagine if you took one die from a board game and doubled its size). The Kube 2 has no buttons or screens -- instead, you use your finger to touch the top of the device and either hold it or swipe it left/right/diagonally in order to select songs, raise/lower the volume or power it on/off. The unit has no internal memory, but comes with a 4GB MicroSD card for music storage. It supports MP3, WMA, WAV and MIDI files, and it also includes a USB adapter for the MicroSD card, a pair of earbud headphones with flat cords that tangle less, and a USB charging cable (it charges via the headphone jack).

ROUNDUP: Great tech for $25 or less

Why it's cool: It's nice to see some digital music player options for users that aren't made by Apple -- the Kube 2 is smaller in height than the iPod Nano, but the cube shape makes it thicker. Each unit also comes with a unique sticker "skin" that you can wrap around the Kube 2 to personalize it, and you can buy additional skins through the company's website.

Some caveats: I wasn't thrilled with the touch interface -- there's a lot of trial-and-error required to get the right feel for how long you hold your thumb, and which direction to swipe in order to do things like powering it up or switching songs. Your two options for listening are either shuffle mode or listening to songs in the order on the memory card -- listening to specific artists or album or playlists aren't available. If you are good about loading your music on in a specific order (like for a workout playlist), you might not mind these limitations, but it could get tedious to try and find a specific song with the swipe actions required. There's also no strap or way to clip the device onto clothes for running or working out -- if you're mobile with this, it's going in your pocket.

Grade: 2.5 stars (out of five)

The scoop: CableStrip, by Rockpool Designs, about $10 (for a pack of two)

What is it? This cable management system is a small bracket with five small holes that can hold cables for your computer, TV, stereo or other consumer electronic gear. The CableStrip uses high-strength tape that can bond on the side of a desk (it's not recommended for painted walls or porous surfaces), providing a solid support for the cables and making the desk area slightly less cluttered.

Why it's cool: My notebook doesn't have a docking station, so I'm constantly trying to connect the power cable, Ethernet cable, display adapter cable and a USB hub cable to the PC every morning when I come into work. Without the CableStrip, those cables would likely fall behind the desk or on the floor, causing more hassles every time I tried to reconnect them to the notebook. The holes on the CableStrip are large enough for the various sizes of cables, but small enough so that they don't fall through the hole to the ground. The tape is sturdy. Previous clamps I used lost their stickiness after a few weeks, but the CableStrip I tested has been on the desk for a good three months, and shows no signs of losing its grip. It's a solid value that solves a problem for notebook owners.

Grade: 5 stars

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.

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