Gadgets prove bigger is by no means better;Hands on
This year's computer hardware releases are smaller, lighter and smarter than equipment launched barely a year ago, which is good news for Santa as he packs the sacks of presents.
Many hand-held computers run on two AA-sized batteries. One is Psion's 5Mx (pound;430) and in addition to storing contact details and files, the 5Mx can also record and play digital sound and send emails. Compaq's Aero 2130 (pound;340) is a palm-sized PC that uses the latest Windows CE2 operating system and offers a touch-control colour LCD screen and handwriting recognition.
Sony's Vaio PCG-F304 notebook PC (pound;1,203) not only looks stylish, but can be connected to a digital camera or digital camcorder and has software that can reduce the size of a picture file for sending via email. The software also allows users to create their own screen savers, wallpaper and 360-degree panoramic shots - impressive stuff.
Hewlett Packard's Omnibook XE2 notebook PC (pound;1,174) has a Pentium II chip,CD-Rom drive and 13-inch screen, while the latest versions of Apple's eye-catching iMac desktop include a standard machine (pound;799), with a built-in 56K modem, 64 megabytes of memory, a 24X CD-Rom drive and high-speed USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections. Apple has also launched an iMac DV, which has a built-in DVD-Rom drive (pound;999) that can also play DVD movies. And for portable users, there is the iBook (pound;1,249), which has a 12-inch screen and offers abattery life of up to six hours.
Digital still cameras are not only easy to use, they are great fun and offer a simple route to putting images into a computer. Better still, their picture quality has been enhanced with the arrival of affordable mega-pixel models. All digital cameras use a light-sensitive chip known as a CCD, which is composed of thousands of light-sensitive cells, or pixels. As a rule of thumb, the greater the number of pixels, the sharper the picture. The CCDs of the first domestic digital cameras had around 300,000 pixels - mega-pixel cameras have at least one million.
Kodak's megapixel DC215 (pound;350) is compatible with both Apple and PC computers and comes with a useful bundle of editing software. Fujifilm's MX-1500 (pound;299) is another megapixel digital camera, and a fine little number it is, too; weighing in at less than 200 grams (excluding battery), it has a neat control dial and also works with the main computer formats. If you're looking for a digital camera with a difference, there's Sharp's VN-EZ1 "Internet Viewcam" (pound;550), which allows users to record still and moving video images and post them on to the Internet. Sony's MVC-FD88 Mavica digital camera (pound;750) records images on to floppy disk rather than a memory chip card and even offers voice recording.
And talking of sound, Sony's ICD-R100 (pound;130) is a digital recorder that stores sound on a large memory chip. Over two hours of speech-quality sound can be recorded on a device that weighs just 68 grams. An optional PC kit (pound;40) allows users to transfer sounds to a PC (the recorder and PC kit are also sold together for pound;160). And a lot of noise is being made by the music file format MP3. This offers near-CD quality sound, but uses small audio files that can be downloaded at a reasonable speed from the Internet. There are thousands of MP3 files on the Net that can be transferred to a PC hard drive then used in the new generation of portable MP3 players.
These hand-sized units are lightweight, have no moving parts and store music on a memory chip card. Most also come supplied with software that allows users to convert CD music tracks into MP3 files. There are many MP3 models on the market including Samsung's YP-E32 "Yepp" (pound;150), LG's MF-PD330 (pound;130), Pine's D-Music (pound;130) and the Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP500 (available next week, about pound;219). The latter is a second-generation model that stores up to one hour of high-quality or two hours lower-quality audio- most MP3 models store half that.
Apple. Tel: 870 600 6010. Compaq. Tel: 0845 270 4000. Diamond Multimedia. Tel: 01189 444400. Fujifilm. Tel: 020 7586 1477. Hewlett Packard. Tel: 0990 474747. Kodak. Tel: 0870 2430270. LG. Tel: 01753 500400. Pine. Tel: 01908 218812. Psion. Tel: 0990 143050. Samsung. Tel: 01952 292262. Sharp. Tel: 0800 262958. Sony: Tel: 0990 424424.