Weekly Wire
Gambit Weekly Plugged In and Turned On

By Kandace Power Graves

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  As technology advances, so do our interests and our toys. The coolest and most advanced electronic gadgets are among our favorite playthings, whether they are used just for entertainment or to mix pleasure with work. Here are our ideas for some of the best ways to do that -- gadgets that will give you megabytes of fun (and may make your life easier, too).

Organizing Pilot -- One of the hottest new products on the market (a must-have for those on the cutting edge of gadgetry) is the PalmPilot Professional computer organizer made by 3COM, formerly U.S. Robotics. The pocket-size device allows users to connect to email, utilizes a pen-input message system, and has a calculator and backlit screen. It also has applications for an expense tracker, datebook, address book and to-do list. You can jump from application to application with the PalmPilot and it provides 1 MB of RAM in addition to a desktop docking cradle that allows it to "sync" or update files from one to the other. You also can purchase a snap-on modem so the PalmPilot can communicate with your PC when you're out and about. The PalmPilot Professional runs about $400. Suggested retail price for the snap-on modem is $129.

Card-Carrying Camera -- Nikon's new Coolpix 100 camera can plug directly into the PC card slot on a notebook computer (without cables), can self-install under Windows '95 and is capable of storing up to 42 photos in its 1MB of memory. The Coolpix has a push-button mechanism that allows the upper portion of the camera to release from the PC card extension for convenience and records the time each photo was taken on a JPEG compression file. The downside is that you can't transfer the photographs from Coolpix 100's PC card directly onto the hard drive of a desktop PC, but you can transfer the JPEG-ed files directly onto the hard drive of your notebook computer. The Coolpix 100 retails for about $400.

What You See -- The ever-improving digital cameras that bring photo images directly to your computer (and your website) truly let you get what you see for prices ranging from $399 for a Vivitar ViviCam 3000 with 1 MG of RAM to about $1,000 for Eastman Kodak's Digital Science DC120 Zoom camera with a macro zoom lens, expandable storage, 2 MB of RAM, great resolution, auto everything and four compression modes. Sandwiched between the high- and low-end cameras are the Canon PowerShot 350 ($699), the Ricoh RDC-2 ($799) and the Sony DSC-F1 ($849). Models also are evolving to accommodate discriminating photographers with options that include manual exposure settings, improved resolution and, in some cases, no-compression and low-compression modes -- everything except the film.

Tuned In PC -- If you want to make sure your PC has it all, give it television and radio with an Aver TV-Phone, about $150, from AverMedia Technologies. The card functions as a cable-ready 181-channel television tuner with a preview function that will let you see 16 channels at a time. It also serves as an FM radio receiver with 20 preset stations and autoscanning. In addition to the entertainment functions, the Aver TV-Phone also has a free-standing microphone and can capture video images as well as perform videoconferencing functions. (It does not include the necessary sound card, desktop camera or modem.)

Computer Links -- You can't cover electronics without mentioning games. When you're online, you can swing over to Scotland for the British Open Championship golf classic or a walk around the links at Royal Troon. Once on the links, you can choose to compose your own player, or you can play as one of eight professional golfers such as Vijay Singh, Chip Beck, Ian Baker-Finch and David Duval. The players look pretty real on the screen and sometimes even whack their clubs on the ground when they miss a putt or birdie. There's even commentary and play-by-play by Jim McKay and Michel Bradshaw, a British announcer. And you get a visual caddy who gives advice. Who knows, you may finally score a hole-in-one.

Executive Play -- The Desktop Safari by Educational Insights looks like a sophisticated desk accessory, but it's also an intellectual plaything that has more than 3,000 facts to reveal. On the outside, it displays a lithographed world map replete with time zones and major cities, but pull out the small keypad, and you can punch your way to all kinds of information -- from the current time to major exports -- about 186 nations across the globe. Suggested retail is $149.95.

Bird's Eye View -- Educational Insights and National Geographic have teamed up on Geosafari, a series of CD-ROM products and electronic game units that explore the natural world, from birds to dinosaurs to the far reaches of the globe. Prices vary depending on the package chosen. Programs let you delve into the life of insects, animals, history, geography and science. It's a hit with kids from age 8 to 98.

Man's Best Friend -- Robo-dog from Learning Curve Toys may not lick your hand or mangle your newspaper, but it will catch the eyes of onlookers when you're out walking. This bundle of wires, bolts and plastic (not to mention four motors) is fun to build and more fun to control with a remote unit that allows you to orchestrate your electronic pooch's every move. Suggested retail is $119.99.

Audio Ecstacy -- If you want the best quality sound from a sleek-looking compact unit, aficionados will tell you to try a Bose. Eric Miller and Jeff Borne have just opened a showroom in Harahan where you can see and hear all that Bose has to offer. The sleek silver unit pictured is the Lifestyle 25 Home Theater System and is one of the most versatile, high-performance systems Bose makes. It features a six-disc CD changer, AM/FM tuner and multiple inputs, and it can expand to two zones so you can play music in one room, watch home theater in another and have both run through the Lifestyle system. It also comes with five very small cube speaker arrays, an Acoustimass module for deep base and Videostage steering logic to make it all crisp and easy. It sells for about $2,400.

Sources:

Bose Showroom, 1431 Edwards Ave., Harahan, 734-8779

Educational Insight and Learning Curve toys can be found at the following outlets:

Big Life Toys, 5430 Magazine St., 899-8697

Kid's Stuff Ltd., 714 Dublin St., 866-8697

LeJouet Inc., 1700 Airline Hwy., Metairie, 837-0533

Little Toy Shoppe, 900 Decatur St., 522-6588

For information on computer and video products, check your favorite computer or camera store.


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