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Gadgets and Gizmos

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Scanning sure is becoming simple.

Canon, a big player in scanners for years, has recently introduced the CanoScan FB 630Ui, a diminutive $149 flat-bed machine targeting Mac users, but not for them exclusively.

The 630Ui is one of the first scanners to be both connected and fully powered via the computer’s USB port. This means there’s only one cord to keep up with.

After placing a photo on the glass, the user pushes the scanner’s only button to bring up the CanoScan Toolbox on the computer screen, a pretty cool and fast way to launch the software.

Canon’s software allows scans to be sent directly to a printer, to e-mail or to a fax modem.

Also included are an optical character recognition program for scanning text and a package for making greeting cards and calendars.

This 36-bit, single-pass scanner captures more than 68 billion colors at a resolution of 600 dpi. It weighs just over three pounds and is 10.1 inches wide, 14.7 inches long and 1.5 inches high.

A translucent blue cover is standard, though other iMac-inspired colors are available for $12.99 each. Another option is a $6.99 stand that holds the scanner vertically when not in use.

The CanoScan FB 630Ui is the easiest scanner I’ve used. I was processing images five minutes after unboxing it.

Canon doesn’t leave out owners of Windows PCs, either. Windows 98 drivers and software are included. Call 1-800-652-2666 or see www.ccsi.canon.com.

Time to make a point

Quarton’s Infiniter Laserwatch seems like a clever idea: a timepiece and laser pointer in one unit. Checking the time or emphasizing a point during a presentation would take only a flick of the wrist.

You’d need a pretty strong wrist, however, because the Infiniter Laserwatch is big and bulky.

It weighs about 6.5 ounces. The titanium-plated brass wristband is large even on a man’s wrist, and Quarton says shortening it is best done with a jeweler’s help.

Operating the laser pointer generally takes two hands. The on button must be continuously pushed with a finger of one hand, while the Laserwatch is worn on the other. This would be inconvenient for public speakers accustomed to gesturing. Although the pointer could be activated with one hand if the Laserwatch were taken off and held, doing so would partially defeat its purpose. The laser beam does work efficiently, projecting up to 500 yards indoors by Quarton’s measurement.

Shock- and water-resistant (as deep as 97.5 feet), the watch sports a rotating bezel that’s useful in timekeeping. A scratch-resistant crystal covers an analog dial, which features luminous hour markers and hands, plus a calendar display.

Quarton provides a small metal tool to remove the watch’s back for battery replacement.

However, after testing my unit for battery accessibility, its laser became stuck in the on mode.

Dial 1-800-520-8435 or go to www.quarton.com to get more on the Infiniter Laserwatch, which has a suggested retail price of $79.95.

The sound and the fury

The Diamond Monster Sound MX 400 merits consideration if you’re considering an upgrade to your computer’s sound package, especially if it’s a gaming machine.

Using three-dimensional technology from British sound experts Sensaura, the MX400’s four-speaker, 3-D effects are rendered realistically and clearly.

The software package is nothing special. It includes a passable SoftDVD player and the highly over-rated RioPort Audio Manager for ripping CDs and organizing them on your hard drive.

On the hardware side, the MX400 offers a S/PDIF jack for connecting a Dolby Digital decoder.

The connection options are a must if you’re serious about making your computer a central part of the home entertainment center.

Evaluating 3-D sound is extremely subjective. The whole idea is to trick listeners into believing they’re hearing something that isn’t really there. In four- and five-speaker modes, this card does a nice job of sorting sounds from front to rear. In games where vertical positioning is programmed, the effects were less impressive. But we noticed none of the pops on start-up that some reviewers have criticized.

In four-speaker configuration, the MX400 recently received top marks from Maximum PC magazine for its ability to project sound from the front speaker set. And gaming benchmarks rank the MX400 on par with the more expensive Sound Blaster Live.

The MX400 is a nice upgrade at $80. Call S3 Corp. at 541-967-2450 or visit www.s3.com.

Little box, big-time audio

Creative Labs crams a lot of features into its Nomad II, a portable audio player weighing less than 3 ounces.

Like its predecessor, the Nomad II comes with an FM tuner that stores 20 presets and a voice recorder. The new model is designed to support multiple digital audio formats, including MP3, Microsoft Windows Media or CD music downloaded from a PC. Software extensions available on the Nomad Web site will allow the player to be upgraded as technology changes.

The Nomad II that I tested had a 32-megabyte flash memory card, which holds up to one hour of music. Transferring audio files from a PC is extremely quick and easy with the USB connection, making the Nomad II perfect for the novice MP3 user.

Despite its compact demeanor, the Nomad II packs a musical punch. The bass-enhanced headphones are light enough for runners or bicyclists and provide a surprisingly rich, full sound. One of the best features for active users is a tiny wired remote that gives one-touch access to the controls.

The Nomad II with a 32MB memory card is available only online for $229; a version with a 64MB memory card is more widely available at $329.99. See www.nomadworld.com or call 1-800-998-1000.

Snap judgment

Maybe it’s just us, but after a weekend of testing, the Polaroid PhotoMax PDC 1100 digital camera came across like a beautiful idea with a few warts.

First, let us say that we got some very good pictures with the PhotoMax PDC 1100; the camera has lots of nice features, and multiple settings make it very versatile. But some design quirks make it harder to use than some competitors.

Begin with the camera’s layout. The lens is on the far left side of the front, directly under the viewfinder. This means that fingers on your left hand may block the lens as they grasp the camera. Seven of our first 12 photos were marred by an overlapping finger.

The PhotoMax PDC 1100 uses a standard 4-megabyte CompactFlash memory card to store images. But extracting the card requires a small clip attached to the camera’s wrist strap, an unnecessarily clunky design.

We liked the optical viewfinder, although we found the 1.8-inch LCD screen difficult to read in bright sunlight, even using a special setting. Worse, icons in the multilayered menu are too small to be read easily while trying to take a snapshot.

These are annoyances, not fatal faults. Consumers willing to overlook them get really nice color, 1152 X 864 megapixel resolution, 2X digital zoom, Polaroid’s PhotoMax Image Maker software, USB and serial cables, a video output for displaying shots on a TV, an AC adapter, wrist strap and camera case - all for less than $300.

Like we said, maybe it’s just us. Call 1-800-343-5000 to learn more.
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