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    Treat yourself to pre-holiday gifts

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver October 25-31, 2005; issue 835 Gear guide column

    Time to devote some "me" time to updating your hardware and accessories

    Before the holiday gift-giving frenzy begins, you may want start the season with something nice for yourself. Below are a few examples.

    Mighty Mouse

    Apple's Mighty Mouse
    Apple's new mouse: trackball scrolls up, down, left, and right
    Apple's new mouse ends more than 20 years of devotion to a single mouse button. (Macs have secretly supported multiple mouse-buttons for years, but you had to use a PC mouse).

    The Apple Mighty Mouse (CDN$65) looks like a single-button mouse with a nubbin-sized trackball, and internal sensors know whether you're clicking on the left or right side. The trackball scrolls up and down, left and right. Clicking the trackball or a pair of buttons on the side can be set to open the programs of your choice.

    Resistant to change? It can be set up as a retro single-button mouse. Designed for Mac OS X, the Mighty Mouse can be used with PCs or older Macs minus the custom features.

    Laser Mouse

    Logitech MX610 laser mouse
    Logitech's Laser Mouse boasts highly precise laser-tracking
    The Mighty Mouse may seem new to Mac owners, but it still dangles a cord. Logitech's new (CDN$99) MX610 Laser Cordless mouse uses 2.4 GHz radio to connect to your PC from up to 10 metres away. Unique two-way signaling indicates when you've got mail or instant messages and powers the mouse down when its not needed, giving the MX610 an estimated three months on a set of AA batteries. The scroll wheel tilts for horizontal scrolling and can be set to magnify the screen.

    The MX610 boasts highly precise laser-tracking and speaker volume and mute buttons.

    Your own photo studio

    HP R817 camera
    HP's Photosmart R817: a 5.1 megapixel digital camera with a Pentax 5x optical zoom
    HP Photosmart 475
    HP Photosmart 475 Compact Photo Printer: simple edits can be done right on the printer
    HP's lightweight Photosmart R817 (CDN$450) is a 5.1 megapixel digital camera with a Pentax 5x optical zoom (most cameras in its class have a 3x zoom). Users can remove red-eye and stitch together panoramas right in the camera. On-camera Image Advice offers tips to improve your shots, while color balance, adaptive lighting, and shading correction features bring out shading and details. Other features include a stainless steel body, bright two-inch LCD screen, 30 frame-per-second video with audio recording, rechargeable battery and docking cradle.

    The toaster-sized HP Photosmart 475 Compact Photo Printer (CDN$350) can be used with the R817 or other digital cameras for 4 x 6" or 5 x 7" prints in under a minute costing as little as $0.24 each. It includes four memory card slots, a direct camera connection, and a 2.5" LCD so images can be viewed and printed directly, no computer needed; simple edits, including red-eye removal can be done right on the printer.

    The new Thinkpads

    Thinkpad X41 Tablet
    Lenovo X41 Thinkpads: ultra portable notebooks with a 12.1" screen and thumprint reader built-in for biometric security
    Many users worried when IBM sold its personal computer line, including popular Thinkpad notebooks, to China's Lenovo. While the new models still sport an IBM logo, Lenovo's Thinkpad X41 (CDN$2,200) and X41 Tablet (CDN$2,350) models suggest the fears were groundless.

    Both are ultra-portable notebooks with a 12.1" screen and thumbprint reader built-in for biometric security. After training, a single finger swipe replaces entering user name and password at login and at secure websites.

    Weighing less than four pounds and with an estimated five-hour battery life, both models are good travellers, featuring the solid keyboards that have long characterized IBM's Thinkpads. The 1.5 GHz Centrino processor offers reasonable performance and good wireless connectivity. No CD or DVD drive is included; Lenovo offers a variety of external USB drives as options.

    The X41 Tablet is a notebook with multiple personalities, combining the features of the standard X41 with a screen that flips over, covering the keyboard and letting the user enter data with a stylus.

    Colour Your Gadget

    Hitfar cell phone skin
    Hitfar: PDA skins for the masses
    If you can't quite justify a new Thinkpad, you can still spruce up your cell phone, PDA, or MP3 player with a $15 skin from Vancouver's Hitfar Concepts ( The durable vinyl skins are customized for a wide range of models in a variety of colourful patterns; for a small extra charge, you can upload a digital photo and get a personalized design.

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