Beautiful things: David Phelan explores a world where style and substance collide

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The Independent Online

Why do you always have to decide between having looks or brains? Some gadgets look just great, but don't deliver when it comes to features, ease of use, or just doing their job. Others look custom-made for geeks but perform their functions efficiently.

Now there is a growing third sector of gadgets that have been designed to match form and function, so that one helps the other with efficient, beautiful results. Some of the latest examples are to be found in the competitive world of mobile phones, where it's now possible to find a fully featured phone in a tiny, cute casing, or a neat handset with the music capabilities of an iPod Nano.

The Nano, of course, is a perfect match of beauty and intelligence. Apple proved years ago that it was possible to make a powerful computer that was also irresistible to look at, though few others have managed to achieve the same thing since. And, in the world of portable music, everyone else is playing catch-up with the iPod, though some are beginning to challenge the designs of Jonathan Ive.

There's nothing like a bit of competition to make you sit up and take notice: last year the Nintendo DS portable games console did well, but nobody thought the design could match that of the Sony PlayStation Portable. So Nintendo has redesigned its handheld to give it a cutting-edge look, by taking a leaf out of Apple's book...

Sennheiser OMX 90 VC £49.99

These in-ear headphones helpfully clip around the ears, so even if you have large lugholes they shouldn't pop out when you run, for example. They're adjustable to fit your ear shape and position, with variable-sized rubber buds - handy if your ears are slightly different sizes (there's no shame in that). The styling owes a lot to Bang & Olufsen's headphones but these fit the ear just as well, if not better, at a lower price. The volume control is on an in-line device which is useful. Sound quality is good, both because the fit means external noise is minimised, and a damping system means the sound you hear is the music.

Up Great sound quality.

Down Not quite as classy as the B&O headphones they're aping.

Contact 0800 652 5002; www.sennheiser.co.uk

Nintendo DS Lite £99.99

It's smaller than the original DS handheld gaming device, and has an even brighter screen, which makes colourful games such as the excellent New Super Mario Bros really shine. Its new, iPod-inspired styling means that its appeal will reach further than the kids who liked the first one, and it has new games designed to match - such as the popular Nintendogs, in which you bring up a virtual canine, or the massively popular Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, which measures your brain's age. The DS has two screens, one of which is touch-sensitive, so you can play using a stylus. It also has a microphone, so you can interact with games such as Brain Training by shouting. Wireless capabilities mean you can play against other gamers sitting across the room or anywhere in the world.

Up Impressive screen and games.

Down It's still just a games machine.

Contact www.nintendods.com

LG White Chocolate £249.95

The Chocolate phone, launched earlier this year, has already sold more than 2 million units worldwide. It is slim, shiny and different - not least because of its light-up, touch-sensitive keys. True, there are some issues with these (the lightest touch means you can end up calling someone by accident) but it's a minor quibble with style like this. Now it's time for this white version, with a hot pink edition also due next month.

Up Cool styling and tiny size.

Down The operating system takes a little time to master.

Contact Carphone Warehouse (0800 925 925; www.carphonewarehouse.com)

Creative Zen V Plus £100-£170

Creative is always keen to stress why its MP3 players are better than those of its rivals, so no surprise it has emphasised that the Zen V Plus is scratch-resistant, after the damaged-screen scandal that greeted the launch of the iPod Nano. Like the Nano, it is a flash-memory player, and comes in 1GB, 2GB and 4GB sizes, to store up to 1,000 tracks (Creative gives higher figures than this, but it means losing audio quality). Beyond that, it's very different from its Apple equivalent - you can plug it into a hi-fi and record to it directly without the need for a PC, it has both an FM radio and a microphone built in.

Up Excellent, colourful screen.

Down Not Mac-compatible.

Contact 0800 376 7954; www.europe.creative.com

Sony T30 £253

Since the arrival of the T1, Sony's digital cameras have had a thing going on with style. The super-slim T7 was perhaps the best-looking, but this latest incarnation is the best mixture of looks and brains. The brushed-aluminium exterior will turn heads, while features such as Double Anti-Blur (which counteracts distortion caused by either camera shake or fast-moving objects) ensure you get great pictures. It's a 7.2-megapixel camera, so images are rich and detailed even on large prints, and there's a generous 3in screen on the back. As always with Sony, it has a high-quality Carl Zeiss lens, which also helps.

Up Great anti-blur technology.

Down Bulkier than earlier Sony beauties.

Contact Amazon (0800 279 6620; www.amazon.co.uk)

Sony Ericsson W950i £tbc

Although the Nokia N91, with its 4GB hard drive, was designed as a hybrid MP3 player and mobile phone, it's the W950i music that aficionados have been waiting for. Like the iPod Nano, it uses flash memory, which takes up less room than a hard drive and doesn't drain the battery as fast. This phone, due next month, is 3G, so you can use it to download music direct from your network (the dual download feature from 3 allows you to download a track to your PC and phone separately). Slim and understated, it is stuffed with functions - so stuffed that there isn't room for a camera.

Up Capacity for up to 1,000 songs in a tiny phone.

Down No camera.

Contact 08705 237 237; www.sony ericsson.co.uk

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