Digital Gear: Homing Devices on the Move

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After making a splashy debut a few years back as homing gadgets in spy movies, GPS devices have become quite practical and make for pretty cool gifts. Plopped on the dashboard of a car, Axion's Geo-320 GPS navigation system barks out directions to the driver. Meanwhile, for the world afoot, TeleNav's GPS Navigator service for smart phones voices directions to suitably equipped pedestrians.

Of course, some staunch traditionalists prefer to consult a paper map or atlas--and for them, StreetGlow's affordable LED Map Light would be a handy nighttime accessory. Finally, Hammacher Schlemmer's LP-to-MP3 Converter, which converts tracks from LPs to digitized MP3 files, would make an excellent gift for someone who owns LPs.

GPS for Drivers

Axion's Geo-632 GPS device for automobiles.
For people who hop confidently into their cars but then demonstrate a shaky grasp of such concepts as "north," "south," "left," "right," "straight ahead," and "where am I," a GPS system can be the best gift ever. A new entry in Axion's nifty array of in-car entertainment devices, the compact Geo-632 offers 2D and 3D views of preloaded maps on its 3.5-inch touch screen as it announces directions. Like most GPS devices, the Geo-632 also identifies points of interest--restaurants, hotels, gas stations, banks, and other popular destinations. A lithium-ion battery keeps the GPS unit running for 8 to 10 hours without a recharge.

The Geo-632 has a Secure Digital flash memory card slot for loading map updates, which Axion provides at no charge on its Web site, according to the company's product engineer Jesse Lee. As a bonus, the unit can play MP3 files and display JPEG image files, says Axion spokesperson Joanna Zhang. The unit costs $350.

GPS for Pedestrians

TeleNav's GPS Navigator for smart phones.
GPS systems can help lost pedestrians, too. TeleNav's GPS Navigator software loads onto a smart phone (ranging from Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and BlackBerry devices to Java-enabled handsets) and delivers maps with 3D views, plus voice and on-screen directions. TeleNav's service can supply directions to more than 10 million business listings in the United States, including Wi-Fi hotspots and tourist destinations.

The system also works in cars, and its Fuel Finder feature locates filling stations with the lowest gas prices. Unfortunately, maps displayed on a smart phone's LCD screen may be too tiny for a driver to view comfortably.

The service works on smart phones from most U.S. mobile service providers. Alltel recently launched the TeleNav GPS wireless service in the United States for $10 a month, and Research In Motion's BlackBerry 8703e and Samsung's u520 smart phones also support the service. The u520 phone even makes one-time-use service available for $3 a pop.

Light Up That Car

Streetglow's cigarette-adapter-powered LED Map Light.
GPS navigation systems are cool, but paper maps are invaluable, especially if the GPS system crashes or runs out of power. Moreover, atlases also provide a map depth that GPS systems can't match. But paper maps are hard to view at night, which is why Streetglow's $15 LED Map Light can be such a godsend. The lamp plugs into a car's cigarette lighter, enabling the driver (or navigator) to read a map without tapping into the battery-guzzling car light.

The Beat Goes On

Just in time for the holidays, Hammacher Schlemmer has introduced the LP-to-MP3 Converter. The included turntable plugs into a computer via a USB port; and the product's software digitizes the LP's audio.

The $170 LP to MP3 Converter helps audiophiles save out-of-print music and spoken-word recordings from vinyl LPs to a more reliable digital medium, the company says. More good news: The software removes the scratches, hisses, and pops that are endemic to LPs; and the system functions as a stand-alone LP player when connected to other stereo system components via an RCA output.

Change Your Wireless TV Headset

Closing out this year's grab bag of treats, Sharper Image offers Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headphones, which allows listeners to pick up audio from a TV, iPod, stereo, or other source with a standard headphone jack from up to 30 feet away--wirelessly. The product consists of two components: a wireless headset and a receiver. The Bluetooth receiver plugs into the headphone jack and the headset links to the receiver wirelessly, pulling in the sound. This $100 Bluetooth headset promises to be an excellent alternative to older wireless headsets based on radio-frequency technology, which are known to be unreliable in both coverage and performance.

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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