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Convenient Audio Books: Playaway Ready-to-go Audio

Audio books are a great idea for making productive use of your traveling or exercise time -- or just for escapist entertainment. But buying books on tape or CD gets expensive, borrowing from the library may restrict your choices (or take too much planning), and managing electronic book rentals by can get logistically difficult with the downloading and syncing to portable players.

Findaway World of Cleveland, Ohio has a different idea that combines the best of both for convenient use: the Playaway "Ready-to-go" audio player -- a small and light digital audio player that you buy preloaded with an audio book.

The Playaway site currently lists around 360 audiobooks in a variety of genres, although more than half are fiction, and many more are children and young adult titles.

Prices range from around $29.99 to $54.99 for best-sellers and classics. For example, Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is $49.99 (20 hours), though Bleak House by Charles Dickens is $74.99 (39.5 hours).

Books are available at stores including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hudson Books and Brookstone, and at some public libraries, including New York, Chicago and Cleveland. And they were listed in the "O List," in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Of course, that's a high price for a book, especially compared to a paperback, and even a lot for a portable audio player that you can't access and reload. But the Playaway delivers an audio book in a really convenient package -- especially if you're at the airport facing a long trip.

Playaway actually encourages customers to share their units with friends and family. And it offers a RePlay Rewards program to return units for 50 percent off the next purchase.

The Playaway comes ready for action, with a AAA battery and earphones (the box lists the only requirements as "two ears"). You don't even have to insert the battery -- just pull a tab to activate it, though you can pop off the bottom to replace the battery.

The Playaway uses a standard headphone jack, so you can use the included headphones, plug it in to a portable speaker, or use an external FM transmitter to listen in your car (Findaway offers one for $24.99). The package also includes a lanyard that you can loop through a retractable clip at the top of the unit.

The Playaway unit is smaller than deck of cards, though thinner and lighter (about two ounces) -- with the book cover art on one size, and the playback controls on the other. It's angled to fit well in your palm when you use the controls.

Press the top Power button to turn it on, press the main Play button to start listening, press to pause, and then press again to resume from where you were. There are also buttons to raise and lower volume, and to skip chapters or scan forward and reverse. The center LCD display shows the current playtime, chapter, or volume information (although it is small and has no backlight).

There's also a EQ button for 5 equalizer settings for both voice and music, and a Speed button with two faster playback speeds (or to shuffle music) -- although there are only a handful of music titles currently offered.

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