Digital Gear: Gadgets, Networks Go Mobile

Storage is the focus of the newest gadgets for the mobile geek. New are a portable hard drive from Soyo and a multimedia player from Archos that plays audio, video, and games, as well as stores and displays pictures.

With help from an IOGear kit you can prepare for another hot technology: Bluetooth. The kit upgrades your outdated box to support the wireless technology. And speaking of speedy transmissions, a system from DesignTech International looks to be the ideal gadget for romantics who can't wait to receive their letters every day. We also take a peek at a new approach to wireless connectivity being deployed in some hotels and businesses.

Soyo's Cigar 20GB Hard Drive

Cigar HD20

A new portable 20GB hard drive from Taiwan-based Soyo provides the storage, size, and shock resistance that make it ideal for travel.

The $199 Cigar HD20, about the size of an Apple IPod, fits into a pocket. Its magnesium-alloy casing can absorb shocks from falls in normal working environments, says a Soyo spokesperson, who notes that the Cigar wouldn't survive a five-floor fall.

The hard drive, made by Toshiba, plugs into a USB 2.0 port and transfers data at a rate of up to 480 megabits per second. The Cigar is compatible with both PCs and Macs; a Windows XP machine automatically recognized it after it was plugged in. The drive measures 4.02 by 2.36 by 0.43 inches and weighs just under 3 ounces. Soyo includes software to compress and uncompress data, enabling the Cigar HD20 to store up to 40GB of data.

The Cigar HD20 is available directly from Soyo, in retail outlets in North America and Europe, and through distributors in South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Archos Portable Media Player

Gmini 400

Recently Archos unveiled the Gmini 400, a personal portable multimedia player that also allows users to play video games. The $400 device functions as a photo viewer and an audio and video player, too.

The Gmini 400 is the newer sibling of the Gmini 220, introduced earlier this year. The new model has a 2.2-inch high-resolution LCD screen that can display 262,000 colors; it measures 4.2 by 2.4 by .07 inches; and it weighs 5.6 ounces.

The device's 20GB hard drive can store up to 300 hours of .mp3, .wma, and .wav music files; store and play back up to 80 hours of MPEG-4 videos; and display up to 200,000 digital photos. It plays video games based on the Mophun console. The lithium-ion battery can play up to 10 hours of audio and 5 hours of video on a single charge, according to a company spokesperson. It is available from major U.S. retailers and also directly from Archos.

Go Bluetoothing

IOGear Bluetooth Network Starter Kit

With Windows XP Service Pack 2 adding better support for Bluetooth, this wireless networking technology is ready to go mainstream. Computers that are a few years old may lack integrated Bluetooth, however. IOGear's Bluetooth Network Starter Kit is one way to add that capability.

Connecting this tiny device to a USB 1.1 port allows your computer to wirelessly communicate with other Bluetooth devices, including mice, keyboards, cameras, cell phones, and PDAs in a 330-foot range at 723 kilobits per second.

The $130 device is available at major retail stores and directly from IOGear.

You've Got (Snail) Mail

If you still look forward to that postal delivery--say of a postcard from Venice, delivered on a rainy afternoon--DesignTech's Mail Alert system will tell you exactly it arrives in your mailbox.

DesignTech's Mail Alert is kind of a real-world version of e-mail alerts. This wireless system consists of a small sensor that attaches to the mailbox and a receiver for the home that chimes and flashes to indicate a mail drop.

What's more, DesignTech says, the system prevents mail theft by chiming if someone tries to open your mailbox.

The system uses radio technology for its transmission, and the sensor and receiver must be within 500 feet, according to the company. DesignTech suggests its system is useful during bad weather and for the elderly or people with poor eyesight.

However, the $50 Mail Alert won't stop your mailbox from flying away in a hurricane. It is available directly from DesignTech.

Blast Those CD Scratches

Digital Innovations GameDR Xcelerator

Fast-forward eight years after buying my first gaming CD--LucasArts' Full Throttle--and the disc is unreadable due to scratches on the surface. But Digital Innovations' GameDR Xcelerator has helped me relive the joy of playing.

Using special liquid and a motorized wheel, the GameDR Xcelerator eliminates scratches from the surface of CDs while keeping information intact. After the Full Throttle CD finished rotating clockwise and counterclockwise under Xcelerator's motorized wheel, the previously grated surface was shining and devoid of scratches, eliciting a wide-eyed "wow." The CD was readable again.

I highly recommend this $50 product for restoring and maintaining game, music, video, or data CDs. The GameDR Xcelerator is available from U.S. retailers and directly from Digital Innovations. A 4-ounce liquid refill is available from the vendor for $7; a supplemental supplies kit provides a new wheel, cloth, and solution for $13.

Wi-Fi Internet Key

Pronto Sweet Spot key

Internet access has become standard at most business hotels, and wireless connections are becoming common as well. Now, some hotels are going a step further: In addition to room keys, some now issue Wi-Fi Internet access keys from Sweet Spot Solutions upon check-in. Guests can subscribe to any of several plans that will give them wireless access anywhere in the hotel or even in participating affiliate locations.

One such Internet key, The house-key-sized Pronto Sweet Spot, is a 802.11b/g network card that stores user credentials; it activates the Internet connection after being plugged into a USB 1.1 or 2.0 port. After a hotspot controller authenticates the user information on the key, a browser window pops up to confirm the key has been detected. Three seconds later, the hotel guest is logged in and ready to surf the Internet.

This portable Internet key is convenient for hotel guests, as the user name and password are stored on the key itself; and network administrators don't have to field calls about forgotten log-in information, says Chad Swensen, executive vice president at Sweet Spot Solutions, which collaborated with Pronto Networks on developing and marketing the device. A stolen key could be cancelled by calling Pronto, says Nandu Desai, a director at Pronto.

Here's the caveat: The key works only with Pronto hotspots, which number between 500 and 800 in the U.S., including hotels, corporate offices, universities, and public locations like malls and coffee shops. For example, Sweet Spot Internet Keys allow Academy of Arts students in San Francisco to access the Internet from anywhere on the campus via a Pronto network. The number of hotspots could increase to 4000 by mid-2005, says Desai; Pronto is negotiating deals with corporations and universities to deploy additional hotspots. Although the key is not available through retailers, you may receive one as part of your next hotel stay.

Agam Shah is an editor with the IDG News Service, based in San Francisco. Questions or comments? Write to Agam Shah.
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