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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 12:31 GMT
The new hi-tech must-haves
The Sidekick hybrid phone-personal information organiser
The Sidekick is cheaper than your average smart phone

Even in a sluggish market, the modern Merlins of the tech industry still have the ability to come out with some pretty cool, and even useful, things.

Some are pretty far-fetched, like a system by Fujitsu that allows you to feed, water and check on your pet over the internet, using a PC or a mobile phone.

But others have found the right mix of cutting edge technology and useful features to make them stand out, even at the crowded floor at Comdex.

Tucked away in a small unassuming booth, just down the way from a Texas company selling bar code systems and Asian companies selling carbon fibre flat panel speakers, is Danger.

A hip sidekick

They make a hybrid phone-personal information organiser called the Hiptop, aka the Sidekick, sold by T-Mobile in the US.

Everyone - Microsoft, Palm and Handspring - has been trying to come up with a way to merge the features of handheld organisers with mobile phones.

The Sidekick hybrid phone-personal information organiser with camera attached
A small camera (seen on the right) can be attached to the Sidekick

It's a no-brainer. It makes sense to store all of your contact information on the same device you use to contact people.

But so far, the devices have not caught on. They are expensive, and many of them try to do too much.

The Sidekick is a great balance between simplicity and utility. I've never touched one before, and within seconds, I was surfing the web at 40kbps using GPRS.

The 240x160 screen is crisp, the pages downloaded quickly and the scroll wheel made navigation easy.

The web browser uses full HTML, not WAP, says Danger's Mark Harlan.

The pages load quickly because a lot of the heavy lifting is done by Danger's server software before the pages are delivered to the handheld.

It does e-mail, up to three separate accounts, as well as SMS and AOL's instant messaging.

The screen easily rotates, revealing a small keyboard. Banging out messages is much easier than on a regular phone.

And the price is right. With a service contract, Amazon is selling the Sidekick for $99 with a small digital camera thrown in.

Most smart phones sell for hundreds of dollars, not a hundred dollars.

Your own TV network

Microsoft is showing off its Windows XP Media Centre, a special version of its operating system that turns the computer into a home entertainment system complete with a personal video recorder, or PVR.

PVRs allow a person to pause and rewind live television as well as record full programmes.

But PVRs haven't caught on, and Rakesh Agrawal, CEO and co-founder of SnapStream, thinks he knows why.

Snapstream video playing on a PocketPC
Watch TV on your PocketPC

Basically, people don't want to have to pay hundreds of dollars to buy another computer, which essentially is what a PVR is, when they already have one, he said.

SnapStream's software does the same thing as Windows XP Media Centre or PVRs such as TiVo or RePlay, but it has an extra advantage.

SnapStream also includes web server software so that you can log into a local web page on your computer and watch recorded programmes on any other computer on your wired or wireless home network.

And the server can serve up multiple streams at once, great for ending family disputes over who gets to watch what when.

Not only that, but it also has a feature that will allow you to save your video onto a PocketPC.

A 64MB Secure Digital card will hold about an hour of video, allowing you to watch your programmes on the move.

See also:

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