Holiday Gifts

Devices and Desires
John XenakisDecember 1, 1997

No doubt the technology lovers in your life have holiday wish lists full of gadgets and computer games. Here are some choice items that might show up on their personal rosters.

Shutterbug Heaven

A person with a PC and a color printer needs only a digital camera to complete a versatile desktop darkroom. These cameras store pictures in flash memory rather than on film. Later, you connect the camera to your computer with a cable and store the pictures on your hard disk, ready for photo editing and printing or posting on the Internet.

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Such companies as Kodak, Casio, and Fuji have good digital cameras that cost around $400, all with resolutions of 640×480 pixels. But the hottest camera this season may be the $699 Olympus D-320L, which offers near-photo- quality resolution of 1,024×768 pixels. Although digital pictures still can’t match the clarity of a print from a good 35-mm film camera, the Olympus comes pretty close.

Happy Helpers

Hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs), like the popular PalmPilot, from 3Com Corp. (, have been around for a few years and cost from $100 to $400. Now a new crop of PDAs is coming out, which run Microsoft Windows CE, a scaled-down version of Windows for tiny computers. The new PDAs are twice as expensive, but have a lot more memory, power, and features.

The Mobilon, from Sharp Electronics Corp. (, has some of the most advanced features of the new breed. Its software includes Pocket Microsoft Word, Pocket Excel, and Pocket PowerPoint for presentations. Its hardware includes a fax/modem for communications and a microphone and speaker for voice recording.

Prices start at $600 for a black-and-white screen and $900 for a color screen. For an additional $400, you can get an add-on digital camera that plugs right into the Mobilon, and comes with software for photo editing.

Write On!

If your favorite PDA carrier desires some more panache, get him or her a stylus to operate the PDA with style. Cross Digital Writer Stylus prices start at $12.50, and have a much better “pen on paper” feel than the stylus that comes with the PDA. The top of the line is the $250 Lapis Lazuli, a stylus covered with 23-carat gold flakes within a lapis enamel. Very elegant.

Knowledge Is Power

If you had the world-famous Encyclopaedia Britannica filling your bookcases as a child, you’ll be happy to know that the whole thing is available now on CD-ROM for $125 in computer and retail stores (or call 800-747- 8503). Microsoft Encarta is also good, but nothing beats the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Fun and Games

The intrepid 21st century private detective Tex Murphy is back in Access Software’s Overseer, a new interactive CD-ROM movie starring Michael York and Rebecca Broussard. This clever detective series was launched in 1993, and has some really nifty visuals ($49.95;

For sheer fun, Marble Drop ($27.95 from Maxis; is a strategy game for PCs in which you drop colored marbles onto various gadgets– including swingers, splitters, and even cannons–to get all the marbles in the right bins. Roll ’em!

Traveling Companion

A hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is not only a neat gadget, it might even save the lives of lost travelers. Turn it on, and within minutes it calculates where you are–latitude and longitude to within 100 meters–and what direction you’re heading into.

Until now, GPS re-ceivers cost about $10,000 for such government and industry applications as surveying or maritime navigation. Low-cost receivers for consumers began appearing in stores this fall. Magellan Systems ( has several models, with costs ranging from $100 to $1,000. The pricier ones have extra features, such as the ability to display maps that show your position graphically.

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