As the gift-giving season approaches, the dizzying variety of electronic gadgets and gizmos is greater than ever, and making a choice, especially if you have a technophile in mind, has never been tougher. But something from among the items collected here might strike your fancy. They include a pen from Logitech that stores handwritten notes in flash memory; several thumb-size removable hard drives that store hefty amounts of data in a device that clips onto a key ring; a cordless headset for a Bluetooth-enabled phone; and some of the smallest cameras yet, to say nothing of a pair of the personal digital system (PDA)/cellphone hybrids that may win your attention as a cellphone but then turn out to be far more than that.
The Power of the Pen
When is a pen more than a pen? When it has an optical sensor to capture your pen strokes, a processor to digitize them, and onboard flash memory to store up to 40 pages of notes.
The digital Logitech io Pen is significatly fatter than a ballpoint, but comfortable in the hand and surprisingly light (53 grams with cap). Scribble your notes, diagrams, or to-do and calendar items on special paper [see "Swedish Start-Up Puts New Spin on Pen and Paper," IEEE Spectrum, July 2001, pp. 34-36] that helps the optics orient itself in following the text. The paper comes in three varieties: in a familiar Mead notebook, as 3M Post-It notes, or in a FranklinCovey day planner.
Put the pen in its cradle for synchronization through the cradle's USB connection with your Windows 98/Me/2000/XP computer. From there your notes may be stored or e-mailed using software included in the starter package, which comes complete with pen, cradle, five ink cartridges, an 80-page notebook, and 50 Post-Its. The day planner dubbed iScribe is available online from its manufacturer. The io Pen will hit retail shelves in January but until then will be available only online.
Price: US $50 (iScribe) http://www.franklincovey.com
Do-It-All Devices at Far Different Prices
The T-Mobile Sidekick is the latest of the sleek PDA/phone hybrids introduced this year. The 175-gram device, about the size of a bar of soap, has a 6.5-cm LCD display, which swivels away from the unit to reveal a Qwerty keyboard somewhat larger than the microscopic type on two-way pagers [photos,]. Best of all, it costs only US $200 (with activation agreement), compared to $599 for a Nokia 9290 Communicator, the class in the field.
The Sidekick, developed by Danger Technologies (Palo Alto, Calif.), doesn't offer everything its competitor does, but it has many important features—and in some ways outshines its pricier rival. Both have always-on Internet connections, but the Sidekick is faster, transferring data at a rate of 53.6 kb/s, versus 14.4 kb/s for the Communicator. The devices cut down on download times, pulling up stripped-down versions of Web pages and images.
Both offer AOL Instant Messenger and wireless e-mail with support for attachments such as Word documents, JPEGs, and Adobe PDF files. The Nokia phone has an edge here because its screen displays pages in 4096 colors, while the Sidekick does its work in monochrome.
The Communicator also has multimedia capability. It comes with software that converts multiple file types, so you can send, receive, and view video clips, digital images, and music.
giftf2b.jpg On the other hand, the Sidekick's headphone jack doubles as a port for an optional camera attachment; it takes snapshots that it could then send via e-mail. Handy as it is, the Communicator does not take pictures.
For e-mail, the Communicator supports many mail protocols; the Sidekick supports comparatively few. The phones are also remarkably similar in the features and functions available for personal information management (PIM), such as an address book, to-do list, and scheduler.
The Sidekick's data-syncing capability is limited. For the initial transfer of data from a PC, the user must upload the information to T-Mobile's Web site, which then forwards it to the device. After that, all additions have to be done manually and syncing with programs such as Outlook is not an option. The Nokia Communicator, on the other hand, syncs readily with PCs using common PIM applications.
When talking, you can either hold the T-Mobile unit up to your face—rather awkwardly—or use it with a hands-free headset. Although a bit clunky compared to the average cellphone you might see on the street, when held to the ear, the Communicator feels like you're talking through a phone instead of a Nintendo GameBoy. And any misgivings about its size are sure to be squelched when it is opened lengthwise to reveal its full Qwerty keyboard and color screen. The Communicator can also send and receive faxes.
Price: US $200 http://tmobile.com/
Price: US $599 http://www.nokiausa.com/communicator