Digital Gear: Entertaining Gadgets

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This month's newest gadgets range from security devices that could help fingerprints replace passwords for logging onto systems or Web sites, to consumer technology with a variety of price tags--just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Among the entries: Microsoft's Fingerprint Reader and Lexar Media's JumpDrive TouchGuard Pro, with new security options. For those with cash on hand, Rollei's throwback MiniDigi digital camera could be a collector's delight, but Sony's Cyber-shot L1 is a better investment for performance and features. And CD labeling becomes easy with Primera Technology's Signature Z1 CD/DVD.

Don't Prejudge a Laptop

Averatec AV6200H60

At first glance, Averatec's AV6200H60 looks like any other notebook. But hidden inside is a stand-alone DVD player that works independently of the operating system, so users can watch movies on the LCD screen without firing up the computer first. If Windows crashes, the DVD mode keeps working.

A Silicon Integrated Systems M741 graphics card provides 32-bit colors. An S-Video output allows DVD movies to be watched on a TV. A console on the front panel of the laptop operates the DVD player; a tiny LCD screen displays the DVD player status. The DVD player even has a cute little remote control that sticks into the PC Card slot when not in use.

Typically, a portable DVD player is a bit limited in its function. However, the test unit from Averatec performed admirably, with deep colors, good sound reproduction, and good menu maneuverability. The laptop also has everything a business user needs: It comes with an Advanced Micro Devices Athlon mobile XP-M 2400+ CPU, 512MB of DDR SDRAM, a DVD/CD-RW drive, wired and wireless 802.11g networking capabilities, and a 56 kilobits-per-second modem. Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition is preloaded.

The Averatec 6200 measures 13.68 inches by 10.04 inches by 1.18 inches; it weighs 7 pounds with the battery.

The notebook costs $1199 and is available from Averatec.

Get Rid of Your Felt-Tip Pen

Primera Signature Z1

Primera's Signature Z1 lets you label your CDs or DVDs in a more professional manner than simply scrawling on them with a felt-tip marker or pasting on a label. While using the Z1 was slightly laborious, its print job was excellent: It printed graphics and text on the disc surface with equal élan. Think of it as an electronic felt-tip pen, a better way to label your discs than with sticky bits of paper, says Amie Hoffner, a Primera spokesperson.

The printer connects to a PC via a USB port. You insert the CD you plan to label into the printer. The printer has room for only one thermal ink cartridge at a time, so if you want to print several colors onto the disk, you have to swap out the cartridge and print again. Primera bundles software to design and print the label on the disc. The Signature Z1 can print on specified parts of the disc only, just above, below, right or left of the center hole; it can't print diagonally or around the hole, for example. The label printed on a disc is permanent: Thermal printers use heat to transfer their inks to a surface, so water has no effect.

However, the Signature Z1 accepts only one cartridge at a time, so you must swap out cartridges to print multicolor images. The printer is not intended for creating fancy labels, Hoffner says. Primera wanted a budget-priced device, and multicolor printing can be expensive, she adds.

Priced at under $100, the Signature Z1 is a good buy for people who want sharp-looking CDs or DVDs, which are especially handy when sending wedding pictures or home movies to friends and family. Ink ribbons cost $20 from Primera and can print about 200 labels.

Security at Your Fingertips

Microsoft Fingerprint Reader

Typing in long passwords seems like using ancient technology after trying out Microsoft's Fingerprint Reader; the device swiftly logged me on to my computer after confirming my identity. It can also be used to log users on to different Web sites, and to provide security when different people use a single Windows machine.

The Fingerprint Reader is also useful for remembering passwords for sites that users don't visit often, says Jennifer Riendeau, a Microsoft spokesperson. Once you set up your system to authenticate your access via your fingerprint, you could tie any other passwords to that one log-in. That's particularly handy when you visit Web sites you don't go to often, because you don't have to remember little-used passwords.

While Microsoft has positioned this $50 device as an alternative to using passwords, the company recommends that it not be used to protect financial information or for access to corporate networks.

More Fingertip Security

Lexar Media JumpDrive TouchGuard Pro

Lexar Media's JumpDrive TouchGuard Pro uses fingerprint biometric technology to secure data. The USB drive can be accessed only after it checks a fingerprint. The product, which is approximately the size of three sticks of chewing gum, has a capacity of only 256MB and plugs into a USB 2.0 port. Setup wasn't straightforward; a finger has to be swiped multiple times so the sensor can register it properly, and then you must assign a user name and password as a backup to the fingerprint access. Each step in the manual has to be followed carefully.

However, once the product was set up, it was easy to operate. We tested it satisfactorily with two different PCs, successfully accessing the data on it after authentication. For additional security, the drive uses 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard encryption. A rubber cap protects the fingerprint reader when it's not in use. The device is compatible with machines running Windows XP Service Pack 1 or later and Windows 2000 Service Pack 4

But its capacity is a problem: 256MB of storage is just not enough. Lexar is working on increasing its capacity, company executives say. The $80 JumpDrive TouchGuard Pro is available now.

Rollei Goes Retro

Rollei Fototechnic MiniDigi

With its retro design, Rollei Fototechnic's MiniDigi makes for a great collector's item. The small digital camera resembles its ancestors from 1929 to 1945: It has two lenses, a hand crank to prepare the camera for the next picture, a shutter release button, and a hooded viewfinder. A pop-up hood on top of the camera reveals a 0.9-inch LCD viewfinder.

However, the MiniDigi didn't perform well during testing: The 2-megapixel CMOS sensor took pictures with poor color balance; and the camera took a long time to process the pictures. There's no lens cap. It lacks an integrated USB port, so pictures must be transferred to a PC using a memory card. And get ready to shell out big bucks for a small piece of nostalgia: $350, to be exact.

For serious photographers, some new Rollei products are on the way. "We have several new Rollei cameras coming soon, including a 35-millimeter Rangefinder. They are about as high-tech and advanced as you can get," says Chad Hill, a company spokesperson.

Stylish Cyber-shot

Featuring both style and performance, Sony's Cyber-shot L1 digital camera is worth a look. It provides the performance of a fully functional high-end digital camera in a small package at an affordable price.

The $300 Cyber-shot DSC-L1 has a 4.1-megapixel CCD sensor, a 3X optical zoom, a 1.5-inch LCD screen, and a lithium-ion battery that can take 220 shots on one charge. It is 4.5 inches wide, 1.5 inches tall, and 1 inch deep. It has seven preset scene modes and can record video at 30 frames per second in a 640-by-480 VGA mode. For additional storage, it accepts Sony Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick Duo Pro media cards.

The Cyber-shot DSC-L1 became available globally in October in brushed silver. Dark blue matte, black, and dark red models will follow in January.

Zip and Drive

Koyono BlackCoat T

Taking the title of quirky product of the month is the Koyono BlackCoat T. The fashionable MP3 fan might want to check out this $39 T-shirt, which has a central pocket meant to store MP3 players or miniature electronic devices. A zipper in the center of the T-shirt opens up the pocket.

Most cell phones, music players, PDAs, and small digital cameras can fit through the zippered opening, according to the company. But don't forget to remove your gadget before putting the T-shirt in the wash--and be prepared to answer questions about it from passersby.

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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