Neat Gadgets to Drool Over
A child tracker, CD-ROM changer and autofocus binoculars are among the 14 choices
VISIONEER PAPERMAX SCANNER ($450). The cigarette-carton-size PaperMax scans virtually any piece of paper--a newspaper clipping, an envelope, a business card--into a computer running Windows, drawing a picture of it on your screen in moments. The paper feeds straight through or back toward you if desk space is precious. MaxMate, the software that lets you view the document, creates a display that looks like the top of a desk so you can see stamp-size pictures of the items you scanned in. You can even stack the pages on screen to give the effect of a document and scroll quickly through the stack. Drag the stack to an icon of a printer, let go and the document will print. You can also get a full-screen view of the page, on which you can highlight sections and add virtual Post-it notes. If you have an E-mail package installed, you can drag the document to a corresponding icon and send it to a friend, who can view it with software supplied by PaperMax. (Copy the software for colleagues and friends who don't also have the PaperMax.) Files can also be stored in formats recognized by popular desktop-publishing programs like Aldus PageMaker. To turn them into text, however, you would have to buy an optical-character-recognition package from a third party. A Macintosh version, minus the viewing software or E-mail support, costs about $400.
TIMEX DATA LINK WATCH ($130). It's no trick to keep track of appointments, phone numbers, birthdays and to-do lists on a personal computer. But what do you do when you're not at your computer? An answer from Timex is a watch that pulls the information from your computer before you go and stores it for later perusal. The Data Link watch, which comes with Windows-based software developed in conjunction with Microsoft, has an electronic-eye sensor that reads data sent as light pulses from the screen of a computer's monitor. You load the supplied software into your computer and enter schedules and other information. To transfer up to 70 entries to the watch, you push a button on the watch and instruct the software through a keyboard command to begin transmitting, while holding the watch 6 to 12 inches in front of the screen for 20 seconds or so. The software leads you through the steps. Pushing buttons on the watch retrieves the information you want and displays it on the watch's readout. You may not appreciate having to keep appointment descriptions and other notes to a maximum of 15 characters, and entries longer than eight characters will scroll across the one-line display. What's more, to control all the watch functions, you need nimble fingers. But having a watch that can sound an alarm according to appointments you have entered into your computer is handy--and you'll be able to contemplate unfinished chores wherever you are.
ALPS GLIDEPOINT POINTING PAD ($96). Who needs a mouse when you can point with your finger? The Alps GlidePoint lets you do just that on a screen about the size of a saltine. Based on the same technology as the TrackPad in Apple's latest portable PowerBooks, the GlidePoint senses when your fingertip distorts an electrical field just below its sealed surface. Slide your finger on its surface, and the cursor navigates around the screen just as if you were using a mouse or a track ball. Left and right buttons at the bottom edge work like the buttons on a mouse. You can also click and double-click with your fingertip, although that takes a bit of practice. Dragging and dropping are a bit awkward because one finger needs to be on the GlidePoint screen while your thumb is on a button. Otherwise, the device feels surprisingly natural after only 15 minutes or so of use. As with any new computing navigational tool, it will take a few days to feel completely comfortable, especially if you're accustomed to moving a mouse around a pad. Anyone who has already adapted to a stationary device, like a track ball, should have an easier time adjusting to the GlidePoint.