October 15, 2004 10:55 AM PDT

Olympus flashes music player-camera combo

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First there was the camera phone. Now there is the camera music player.

Japanese camera giant Olympus this week unveiled a hard-drive-based music player that can also take photos. In addition, the company showed off a smaller hard-drive-based player without a camera function.

Eyeing the success of the Apple Computer's iPod, a variety of electronics manufacturers have introduced portable gadgets centered on small hard drives. Sony, among others, has launched portable video players with hard drives, while Samsung is planning to release a cell phone with a hard drive. Dell, Toshiba and others have unveiled portable music players with small drives.

Olympus' M-Robe 500i portable music player adds digital photography into the overall trend. The company has combined a 20GB hard drive and a cell-phone-quality camera into the same unit. The shutter is activated by pressing a 3.7-inch LCD screen. The hard drive is capable of storing 5,000 songs or 20,000 images or a combination of the two.

Like versions of Toshiba's Gigabeat, which will be released over the next few months, the LCD screen on M-Robe 500i can be used to view album art.

Olympus' smaller player, the M-Robe 100i, does not contain a camera, but contains a much smaller 5GB hard drive, so the entire unit is closer in size and shape to the iPod Mini.

Olympus also released a 4-megapixel camera called the I-Robe that can be paired with a photo storage device that has a 40GB hard drive and a mini-photo printer.

Entering the U.S. market in January, the M-Robe 500i will sell for about $500, while the M-Robe 100i will sell for $250.


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