If you're feeling a bit old hat with your hardback diary or personal organiser, maybe it's time to go electronic. Palm has led the way with PDAs (personal digital assistants) for some time but its supremacy in the hand-held computer market is being challenged by a number of competitors.
Handspring, for example, is gaining a name for itself with its range of cheaper and more colourful PDAs, which cost as little as pound;46. The newest is the Visor Prism, one of the first PDAs to have a full-colour display.
Visor Prism uses the Palm operating system and has all the usual features, including a diary, memo facility, address book (up to 12,000 entries), and "to do" list. All can be accessed by tapping a stylus on the touch-sensitive screen. Features that may persuade newcomers they really aren't wasting their money include a calculator and a world clock. There's also HotSync software which allows you to transfer data between your Handspring and your PC or Mac.
You can turn the Visor Prism into a digital camera, wireless modem or even phone using the Springboard expansion slot. All these features are available in a model that weighs only 194g (just under 7oz).
Flashier looks come at a price of course: Visor Prism costs pound;399. That includes a USBbattery charger cradle, an AC power adaptor and the Palm Desktop software. Handsprings are available from most high street electronics stores. Website: www.handspring.com An Advent calendar with exploding Xmas puds, and a click-and-drag, build-a-snowman game, are the tastiest morsels in the cheap and cheerful Christmas Pudding CD-Rom from Compact Multimedia. There are also seasonal stories and carols, but who wants to sit around a computer to sing? The festive colouring sheets can be downloaded, however. Christmas Pudding has English and Welsh language options and costs pound;9.99 (plus pound;2 pamp;p) from ATP, 17 Heol Wen, Cardiff CFR14 6EG. Tel: 029 2062 4669. Website: www.compactmm.com 1st line = Until recently, computer manufacturers have been happy with the one-size-fits-all philosophy. Now companies are trying to create a whole new market, with computers targeted at the under-12s.
Some, like the Ultraslim from Team Concepts, are made to look like the most expensive pieces of adult kit. Others, such as the Extreme from VTech, are aimed at young consumers who still want somethingthat looks like a toy.
From a distance, Ultraslim resembles a top-of-the-range laptop. On closer inspection you'll see its case is made of metallic-look plastic. Ultraslim is pre-loaded with 60 activities which are suitable for eight-year-olds. The games, which aim to develop a range of skills including literacy, numeracy, memory and reasoning, can be set at various levels.
Ultraslim features the standard Qwerty keyboard with additional specialised keys which are used in place of pull-down menus. Work can be printed out on the Power Printer Plus (which needs to be bought separately at pound;59.99 plus pamp;p) and text files and graphics can be transferred to a PC with the PC Link II which is also availabe as an accessory. Ultraslim runs on four AA batteries, costs pound;99.99 plus pamp;p and is available from Team Concepts. Tel: 01279 715600.
The makers of Extreme have been more adventurous and produced something a lot more distinctive. This junior laptop has a bright yellow case with reinforced rubber edges. As well as the 64 activities and a language translator, Extreme has an FM radio and alarm, giving it the edge over its rivals. Expansion cartridges, the VTech email kit, mouse and printer connections are available as extras. Like Ultraslim it runs on four AA batteries. Extreme costs pound;89.99 and is available from VTech on 01235 546810. See www.vtechuk.com for stockists.
Both these models offer cheap computer access. But, like any other toy, they will soon be outgrown and you'll be forking out again sooner than you'd hoped. At least with a standard PC you can just buy some new software when the children have outgrown their current CD-Rom collection.
The Cool iCam digital camera not only looks good, it won't burn a hole in your pocket.
Measuring less than 10cm across, this dinky digital may not provide the picture quality of the more expensive digital cameras but it is almost as easy to use as a disposable. It takes up to 80 low-res or 20 high-res images and comes with software allowing you to create short digital videos and manipulate photographs. Accessories include a camera case and wrist straps, a tripod adaptor, a stand so you can use it as a webcam and a USB cable. Its main drawback is that it can only be used with Windows 98. Cool iCam costs pound;79.99 and is available from high street stores.