gadgets for Xmas presents (2001)

“Strictly PC (or Mac) by Roger Frost – TES newspaper

In the past grandma was delighted to receive a saucepan for Xmas but no more. Today she has her own computer, has struck pots and pans from her list, and she is now the easiest person in the world to buy for. The shops are stacked high with fabulous gear, all with plugs on, all of it strictly PC. If electrical goodies come at a price, there are special savings from Hewlett-Packard’s latest ‘all’-in-one’ printing device.

Saving space, money and the hassle of working a printer, fax, copier and flatbed scanner, the hp psc 950 could be the hub of a home study. With its stylish looks, it can kick out a fax and photocopy in black or colour. It can read text from a printed sheet (‘OCR’) as well as reduce or enlarge it onto multiple sheets. To be relished is its photo card reader that prints pictures directly from the Compact Flash, Smart Cards and Sony Memory Sticks that pass for camera film these days. Put one of these digital camera cards in the slot and it prints a contact sheet of thumbnail pictures. Like an exam paper you mark which pictures you want to print on the sheet and put it (the sheet) on the copier glass. The psc 950 reads the marks, prints in the size you ticked and the result is no-compromise photo quality.

Clever too is that there’s no need to fire up the PC to do much of this – because doing so is the surest way to spoil the Xmas fun. But less so here, because with the PC live, the hp psc 950 (~£299 incl) becomes cleverer still – it lets you for example manage the camera card and copy pictures to the PC very elegantly.

Camera makers too have realised that getting your pictures from a camera needs to be easier. Setting the pace here is Kodak’s DX range, including the DX3600 and DX3700 (both ~£349 incl) which dock in an ’EasyShare’ base when you’re not taking pictures. From here they charge their batteries and send pictures to the computer. With a docking base and just a ‘send’ button to press, battery handling and cable handling are no more. Short of thinking your pictures into a computer, this is a way to go.

ClickSmart 510 and ClickSmart® 310

For a first foray into digital pictures, a web camera is very affordable (see pictures below). Logitech’s ‘Quickcam’ range come with software (www.logitech.com) that makes pictures, videos, web photo albums. It can even broadcast your lesson on the Internet. But new this Xmas are the ClickSmart 310 and 510 web cameras that you can also use away from the computer. The 310 (~£69 incl) fits in a pocket and takes a 15-second video or 160 small snaps you can email. Connect it to the PC and it takes all the pictures out without fuss. You’re then only a button away from say, making a picture gallery on a web page that looks very neat. Snap away while you’re connected to the PC and you gain greater memory and more control. If this is much the easiest camera to start with, the 510 (~£139 incl) boosts the picture quality to postcard size (1.3 Mega pixel). It also has a flash and memory card to make it very versatile. If you baulk at the price of high-end cameras, the 510 will bide the time very entertainingly till they’re affordable. It has the look and feel of a really novel gift.

A quality mouse makes a nice gift – the Logitech IFeel Mouse has an optical sensor which, over time proves to be more reliable than the ball mechanism. This one also has a motor inside, so with a bit of a whirr and a ‘whoar’, it vibrates to draw attention to screen buttons and menus. It’s pure novelty that it can sing steel drum sounds as you move over screen furniture – but it’s especially good for those, grandparents say, that need help with their aim. If you demonstrate computers, or find the mouse cable is a bother, the new Cordless Optical Mouse (Logitech ~£39 inc.) is the answer. This remote mouse is a blessing in meetings and presentations where you can pass it around – while its optical sensor saves passing a mouse mat too.

Keyboards too have improved, for example the Internet Navigator Keyboard (~£25 inc) would suit surfers with its array of shortcut buttons to websites. Music buttons play tracks on CDs, while a wheel volume control make this handy at home. I’d value its flatness over the tilted designs – a serious point for frequent computer use.

Visor Neo handheld and Visor Deluxe

Digital organisers, like the funky Handspring Visor are affordable as the very capable starter model costs £89. For more memory, speed and a cradle there’s Visor Neo (£169) and then there are slim, executive models like the Visor Edge. If you’ve a bigger budget, be aware that late next year you’ll see Visor Treo – a GSM phone with diary, address book and web surfer. This ultimate flying machine has a mini keyboard and seems so educational, that school policies on mobiles may shift.

With 100 Mb or more of storage, the famous Zip disc lets you carry your digital works wherever you go. If once you needed have a Zip drive to hand, today’s drives now fit your pocket and work off a single plug (USB). Look for Zip 100 New Generation (~£79) or The Ultimate Zip 100 (~£89) which is even smaller. For a more executive style device, and more storage per disc, try Zip 250 mobility kit (~£169). In this handy format, it’s looking like the document briefcase is the next thing to go from the Xmas present list.

Treo™ communicator

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