High-tech Toys for CIOs

Don’t expect deep insights into how to run your business from this article. This is the one you want to leave the magazine conspicuously open to on the coffee table at home. Hint, hint.

We’re guessing you have enough striped ties and/or knit scarves to last a lifetime. Ditto socket wrenches, golf gloves, cook books, and garden tools, depending on your preference. But nobody could ever have too many toys, right? That being the case, we’ve scouted out the high-tech section of Santa’s workshop to find the niftiest toys for CIOs this year — assuming you’ve all been good and not gone over budget. Here’s a peek.

Satellite Phone Solution for CIO Globetrotters

Kyocera SD-66K Satellite Phone Adapter

With this baby you can call home from just about anywhere on the planet. The perfect solution for globetrotters and folks who spend time in god-forsaken places.

Clip a shirt-pocket-sized cellular phone into the adapter and use its familiar keypad, memory and other functions to make calls on the global Iridium satellite network. Of course you have to subscribe to the satellite service first.

When you’re in the city, you use the handset as you would any cell phone. It’s not as small as the smallest, but small enough — at 41x130x22 mm and 105g — to fit in a purse or pocket. Then when you head out into the wild places, put the phone in the adapter. It won’t fit in your pocket any more, but it will fit easily in a briefcase.

You can even swap handsets using an analogue cellular model in North America and a GSM unit in Europe or Asia. Kyocera has handsets coming for other PCS protocols as well. You will pay for this kind of flexibility. The adapter is $2,200, the analogue handset $250, the GSM 900 (Europe/Asia) handset $450.

Iridium pricing is complex, but per minute charges range from $2.50 to $4.00, plus monthly fees. Iridium Canada, 1-888-474-3486, www.iridium.ca.

Car Smarts

Clarion AutoPC

It’s the ultimate piece of car electronics — a top-flight CD audio system and voice-controlled in-dash personal digital assistant combined. You never have to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road. Tell AutoPC to cue up your favourite tunes, find a phone number and dial it, work out a route to your destination or take a memo. And it will.

AutoPC has a vocabulary of more than 200 voice-command words it recognizes. And it can read out anything it has in memory using its text-to-speech system. Software bundled with the Windows CE-based PDA includes an address book you can update from your Palm or other handheld unit via infrared remote.

The sound system, from a world leader in car stereos, has 35 watts of power in each of four channels. It comes with AM/FM stereo and a single-play CD player. You can add a six-disk changer, more amplification, speakers — even a video system.

One catch: some of the coolest stuff is optional — the cellular phone docking station ($460) for hands-free voice dialling, the GPS (geographical positioning system) unit ($360) and navigation software ($25) for route planning.

Still, even out of the box, at $1,900, AutoPC will revolutionize your driving experience. Available at select car audio retailers. Clarion Canada, 905-829-4600, www.autopc.com.

Apple of Your i?

Apple iBook

A laptop computer for the IT executive who dares to be different. Even if you think Bill Gates is a saint and the Wintel platform the greatest thing since hot toast, you’ll have trouble resisting this unplugged version of Apple’s wildly popular iMac desktop computer.

Not only do you get the same wow-inducing industrial design as the iMac — sexy curves, see-through chassis, designer colours — you also get one very hot computer. The iBook is powered by a 300MHz PowerPC G3 processor. It significantly outperforms similarly endowed Intel chips.

We found the keyboard one of the best we’ve tried — though we’d prefer a pointing stick to the trackpad. The 12.1-inch TFT screen is bright and clear. The hard disk is big enough at 3.2GB. There’s a 24X CD-ROM player and 56Kbps modem built in. Plus some useful and some fun software.

But it’s the little Mac touches that set it apart, like the built-in 10/100Mbps Ethernet port and the AC adapter that isn’t ugly or inconvenient. Then there’s the optional AirPort (from $600), an RF system that lets you compute anywhere in the house and stay connected to the Net — without wires. AirPort even lets you share a high-speed connection with other iBooks, wirelessly.

iBook, $2,379. Apple Canada, www.apple.ca.

Smart Phone with Higher IQ

NeoPoint 1000 CDMA/AMPS Phone

Be the first in your company to own a next-generation wireless smart phone. This dual-mode phone-cum-PDA works in analogue cellular and CDMA-based digital wireless networks. In Canada, it’s so far only available from Bell Mobility.

The NeoPoint 1000 differs from your average cell phone in a couple of ways. The LCD displays 11 instead of four lines of text and numbers, letting you see up to 10 times the number of characters — essential if you’re going to use the phone’s other features.

They include a full suite of PDA applications — calendar, address book, to do list, etc. You can even synch up the databases on your PC with the phone’s databases using the included connection kit. The NeoPoint 1000 also comes with mini-browser software that lets you access Internet and intranet pages specially coded for handheld devices.

The phone gives you another way to access the Net too: it incorporates a wireless modem. You can plug your laptop into it and dial into your regular ISP wirelessly. Of course, you’ll pay regular wireless air time charges.

Despite all the extras, the NeoPoint 1000 is no bigger than the average portable handset — 5.5 inches long, 6.4 ounces. And it will sell for just under $500. Not unreasonable.

Available through Bell Mobility, www.bellmobility.com.

This PDA’s Price is Right

Handspring Visor Deluxe

If you don’t already own a personal digital assistant (PDA), for shame! How can you hold your head up and call yourself a connected, with-it person?

This new brand-new PDA is a likely candidate to fill the void in your life. It uses the Palm operating system, the OS for Palm Computing’s popular line of competing products. But Visor offers more memory and expandability for less money. And designer colours too (blue, ice, graphite, green, orange.)

Visor looks and feels a lot like a Palm PDA. The same software suite: address book, calendar, to do list, memos, etc. The same Windows-like interface. You operate it with a stylus that you can also use to print notes on the screen, which Visor then turns into computer text. All just like Palm. And also like Palm PDAs, the unit comes with a hot-synch cradle that lets you connect to a PC and synchronize databases.

What’s different is that for about $350, you get a unit with 8MB of memory, compared to about $650 for the otherwise very similar 8MB Palm Vx.

Visor also has an expansion slot you can use to add optional Springboard modules, including games — the unit comes with a Tiger Woods golf game — extra memory or a 33.6Kbps

modem. Handspring is promising a Springboard MP3 player, wireless modem, pager, digital camera and more. Soon. Handspring, www.handspring.com.

PC-less Music to Your Ears

Pine D’Music MP3/Audio CD player

Psst! Wanna listen to some free music? This brand-new, cutting-edge Walkman-like device is the only executive toy in our line-up this year that raises ethical issues. The D’Music CD player lets you play near-CD-quality MP3 compressed audio files from a CD-ROM — with no PC.

You can create the MP3 files on your PC using “ripper”, software that records from an audio CD in your CD-ROM drive and compresses to the MP3 format in one step. The resulting files take up about a tenth the storage space of CD audio — and sound almost as good. You can also download MP3s from Web sites, many of which illegally distribute bootleg copies of songs — the ethical issues we mentioned.

The D’Music is the first device that lets you play MP3s from a CD-ROM, without the PC. Use it in the car, at the cottage, or attach it to your home stereo system. The D’Music unit also plays ordinary audio CDs.

The great thing about MP3s on CD-ROM is that one disk will store the music of 10 audio CDs, or as many as 20 LPs. Of course, you’ll also need a CD-ROM writer attached to your PC to record the MP3 files onto the CD (about $350).

No price yet. Canadian distributor: Samtack, 416-940-1880. Pine, www.pine-dmusic.com/cd/cd.htm.

Incredible Shrinking Movie Screen

Panasonic DVD-L50D PalmTheater

Imagine lying on a hammock in the backyard watching The Fugitive or whiling away a long lay-over at Chicago O’Hare by taking in Twister on your own portable movie theatre. You could do it with this miniature DVD player. It doubles as a home DVD player and plays audio CDs too.

The PalmTheater is a little bigger than a CD walkman but comes with its own five-inch widescreen LCD. If that sounds tiny, well, it is. But consider this. When you watch your 30-inch TV in the rec room you might sit as far as 10 feet away. With the PalmTheater in your lap, the screen is only about 18 inches away. We’re not saying the PalmTheater is the same as watching big-screen television, but you won’t have any trouble making out what’s happening on its very bright, detailed (287,000 pixels) screen.

In portable mode, the supplied lithium ion battery will last up to three hours. You can listen to the soundtrack on the built in stereo speakers or plug in headphones.

And the beauty of the PalmTheater is that you can use it at home too. Plug it into your TV using the S-video connector for superior video quality, and into an A/V receiver to get Dolby Digital surround sound.

DVD-L50 PalmTheater, about $1,400. Panasonic Canada, www.panasonic.ca.

The Mouse That Roars

IntelliMouse Explorer

Every boy’s dream: a mouse for Christmas. Okay, maybe not, but this one — a mouse without balls as one wag dubbed it — definitely deserves a place under the tree. It may be the best mouse available today.

Microsoft calls it “The first major advance in mouse technology since the 1960s.” This is in reference to the IntelliEye infrared tracking system the Explorer uses — instead of the usual rubber ball.

The new position tracking system eliminates the one moving part in a computer system that required regular maintenance. No more sticking, no more sluggish response — and best of all, no more taking the mouse apart to clean gunk out of the works.

The Explorer still has one moving part, a wheel between the two buttons that lets you scroll

up and down browser and word processor pages. And it also has two extra buttons on the side where your thumb rests that let you go back or forward through pages in a Web browser.

IntelliMouse Explorer, about $90. Microsoft, www.microsoft.com.

The Ultimate Disk Drive?

Creative PC-DVD RAM 5.2GB

This may be the ultimate disk drive. It reads and writes and rewrites blank DVD disks — up to 5.2GB of data for text, programs, images, video — anything digital.

The bundled software lets you record and delete files dynamically, the same way you do on your hard drive. With the 5.2GB of storage per double-sided cartridge, you can record up to 10 hours of CD audio or 230 minutes of MPEG-2 video — the video on DVD movie disks. Or a whole pile of Word documents. You could use the drive for back-up and long-term archiving of files, for example.

The PC-DVD RAM 5.2GB also plays CD-ROMs at up to 2,400KB/second (16X) and DVD-ROMs at up to 2,700KB/second (2X). If you’re assembling a new PC, you really don’t need another CD or DVD drive. Add a Creative Dxr3 decoder board and you can even use the PC-DVD RAM drive to watch DVD movies on your PC or TV.

DVD-RAM media — the blank disks — may seem expensive at $59 each. But this works out to a little more than a penny per megabyte, which is absolutely the best deal going in removable data storage. If your PC doesn’t already have one, you will need a SCSI adapter to run the PC-DVD RAM drive — count on another $60 at least. And the drive itself is about $825. Creative, www.creative.com.

Tony Martell is a freelance writer and hopeless high-tech toy addict. He is based in London, Ont.