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Gadget-makers continue to add usefulness 

Business in Vancouver-- June 26, 2001 Issue 609 Currentz Section
by Alan Zisman (c) 2001: Gear Guide column

From cordless mice to home broadcast systems, gurus improve gear 

Gadget gurus continue to look at electronic devices that we use everyday for ways to improve productivity, expand usefulness and spur revenues, drumming up a series of new toys for computers and PDAs. 

Some make music, some don't 

Digital music keeps coming on strong on the gadget front, as the marriage between computers and home audio continues. 

But for too many of us the computer is in your home office and the stereo is in the den or living room. US Robotics bridges the gap. The $150 Soundlink plugs into a computer's audio-out jack and transmits (via its matching receiver unit) to any FM radio in the house on 88.1 or 88.3 Mhz. 

Range is about 300 metres, so not only should it reach any room in the house, but you can also use it in the backyard to play your favourite digital music during a backyard barbecue. 

Sometimes the good ones get away, however. Witness the Kerbango Internet Radio. The idea was a radio with an Ethernet networking port that could plug into a network or broadband Internet connection and pick up Internet radio broadcasts from the Kerbango Tuning Service, offering 4,000 audio channels worldwide. 

The company was bought by 3Com, which proceeded to shut it down along with the rest of the company's Internet Appliance Division. 

Mouse with the most 

I like optical mice. Sensing hand movements with a glowing light instead of a ball and rollers, there are no moving parts to crud up. They work on almost any surface, spelling an end to mouse pads, creative or kitschy, while offering better accuracy than their mechanical forebears. 

I also like cordless mice, meaning one less wire tangled on my too, too messy desktop. 

Until now though, you had to pick one or the other. Enter Logitech's Cordless Mouseman Optical ($99), the mouse with everything, even a scroll wheel. Like other cordless mice, it requires batteries. But Logitech promises its built-in power management makes it less likely that your mouse's batteries will die out just as you're working on that career-building report. (They claim about two to three months of battery life with average use.) 

There's keyboard action, too 

The Alphasmart 3000 IR (about $350) keyboard leads a dual life. Plugged into a computer, it's a PC or Mac keyboard. But unplug it and it's a stand-alone word processor. Weighing in at less than a kilogram, it's a lot less to tote around than a notebook, but it's much easier to enter information than a PDA. A four-line, 40-character LCD panel lets you read what you're typing. 

Different models come with USB or infrared wireless connections. Either way, you can download word processing documents (plain text only, please) into the keyboard or shoot your typing back into your word processor. A set of three AA batteries lasts anywhere from 200 to 500 hours. You can even connect the keyboard directly to many printers. 

The sound of one hand typing

While a keyboard is a handy add-on for Palm or Visor users when they have to enter a lot of text, it's awkward switching back and forth from the keyboard to the PDA's stylus. Check out Matias Corp.'s Half Keyboard (about $150; www.halfkeyboard.com). As the name suggests, it looks like half a standard keyboard and it's meant for one-handed operation, leaving the other hand free for the stylus, munching chips or what have you. 

"What about the other letters?" you wonder. Holding the spacebar down while you type gets you the letters that normally appear on the missing half. Matias claims that most touch typists get the hang of it in only a few minutes and can quickly be typing at their normal speeds. 


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan