2001: Great gadgets

A few shining examples of great gadgets--the kind of devices that get kids smashing up their piggy banks or adults melting their plastic.
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Here are a few examples of what you really wanted to receive this Christmas:

Nokia 5510
Radical. That was the consensus when Nokia unleashed its latest handset--which some correspondents thought could be the result of a tryst between a Game Boy Advance and a traditional mobile phone.

There is a high-resolution monochrome LCD screen in the center of the 5510, which divides a full QWERTY keyboard. Thus, it's easy for a user to hold the phone with both hands for speedy two-thumb typing and game-playing. The onboard MP3 player and FM radio gives genuine multimedia features, and Nokia has promised to add to the five games that come as standard.

The 5510's first public viewing was at Manchester's Board Stupid snowboarding show--so let's not hear any nonsense about mobile phone companies targeting the youth market while scientists investigate fears that children could be more at risk from any potential health dangers.

Latte and Macaron
These latest additions to Sony's electronic kennel are smaller and cuter than their predecessors. The Japanese consumer titan has also managed the trick of making these robot dogs a damn sight cheaper than the first Aibo--one can be yours for under £600 (US$870).

Both Latte and Macaron can understand and react to 75 voice commands, thanks to their artificial intelligence software. They can also perform motion-detection photography, and can even communicate in a tonal dialect.

If Sony can keep adding to the functionality of the Aibo range, while dropping the price, then before long every other Christmas stocking will play home to an automated pooch.

Motorola V66
An important part of the process of turning today's phone users into 3G freaks, analysts reckon, is persuading them to upgrade to move from stale old GSM to the faster GPRS--as soon as possible. It's hard to accuse American phone-maker Motorola of shirking from doing its bit.

The firm that launched the first commercial GPRS phone--the Timeport 260--kept its pace-setting position with three new devices this year. The V66 phone, described as "the little black dress of the mobile phone world," is a highly stylish and well-designed creature. Available in silver or blue, the V66 weighs only 79g and flips open to reveal a compact keypad and bright screen.

Some users have complained that the menu structure and key layout could be better, but there's no doubt that consumers have been impressed by the V66's looks--which is surely not a bad way of generating interest in GPRS.

Seiko SmartPad
These pocket-sized PDAs have plenty going for them, but entering data is still quite a bind. Seiko has now come to the rescue of anyone who struggles to master Graffiti, and can't handle the small on-screen keyboards. Its SmartPad2e lets you write on an A5 pad with a special infrared pen, and then save your scribble on your PDA as a GIF file.

This file, which could contain notes from a meeting or a useful map, can then be saved, or transferred to a PC the next time the user synchronises.

The SmartPad is compatible with a wide range of PDAs, including the Palm III series, the Handspring Visor range and Sony's Clie.

Fossil's Wrist PDA
Trendy US watch maker Fossil is planning to wade into the PDA arena by launching its Wrist PDA in early 2002.

The Palm and PocketPC-compatible device will double as a timepiece, and although it hasn't actually got the functionality of a handheld computer, analysts believe it will appeal to gadget lovers. The Wrist PDA can download data from PDAs via infrared -- and has enough memory to hold over 1,000 contacts, or 350 memos.

Consumers could use the Wrist PDA to hold vital information without having to carry their PDA around--ideal if they're looking to travel light. The device will be on sale through Fossil's own stores, which are in 80 countries, as well as via US retail outlets.

SONICblue's Advanced Digital Audio Center
Billed as a high-end home entertainment hub--SONICblue's latest device is capacious enough to hold 6,500 individual songs. The device allows a user to save the contents of a CD onto its 40GB hard drive before downloading selected tracks to a MP3 player or burning them onto another CD.

Consumers can therefore use the device to handle their music collections--letting them use their PC for more serious tasks. It also comes with a modem, so in the future it could also download tunes from the Internet. At the moment, though, SONIC insists that the audio centre will only go online in order to identify CDs.

Getting into the e-commerce theme, SONICblue is only selling the gadget online--from www.sonicblue.com.

Iomega Peerless
Storage may not seem the most exciting part of technology, but Iomega's Peerless range managed to take it to a higher level. Removable disks up to 20GB are big enough to back up a whole computer system, and--with a FireWire connection--transfer speed up 15 megabits per second are posible.

Consumers will be able to buy disks and docking stations separately. This means that, for example, an Autodesk user could store the application and all their work on one Peerless disk, and carry it between home and work. An Iomega executive claimed earlier this year that "Peerless is ideal for a creative user, someone who works with video or design applications." So, there you have it. Mock storage at your peril.

Staff writer Graeme Wearden reported from London.

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