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Gadgets and gizmos

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If you tend to visit the same Web sites over and over, the mysmart mouse pad can take the monotony out of getting there. The pad features easy-to-program buttons that automatically take you to your favorite sites, connect you to your e-mail and help you explore myriad locations across the Internet.

Setup is a breeze. Simply install the mysmart program, plug in the pad's USB cable to your computer and complete the installation and registration. Users receive a mysmart card that must be inserted into the pad to make it functional. The pad becomes active only after a password is entered.

Once the pad is activated and you're at one of your favorite Web sites, buttons can be programmed so that you can return to the same places again and again. Just hold one of the buttons for three seconds until you hear the audible tone to program the location. It couldn't be easier.

Mysmart offers 24-hour support, though setup is so simple that only the most inexperienced computer users may experience problems.

At $19.95, the mysmart pad may be handy for some, but most browsers already offer bookmarking capability and easy e-mail access from the home pages of Internet service providers.

For more information, go to www.mysmart.com or call 1-888-203-6373.

– Bob Bersano


On in a flash

It's no secret that the convenience of mobile computing is diminished by painfully slow Internet connections and a phone cord tethered to terra firma.

The solution: Cut the cord and crank up the speed. That is exactly what the Ricochet wireless modem does, albeit expensively.

The $300 palm-size device is purchased through a Ricochet-authorized service provider. There is also a $79 monthly access fee that entitles you to unlimited usage.

Friendly to users of both Windows and Macintosh laptops, the Ricochet needs either a USB or serial port to attach to a computer. The software installation does all the required setup. So just flip the antenna, toggle the power switch and you're on the Internet at speeds of up to 128 kilobits per second, potentially twice as fast as a typical dial-up modem.

Currently, coverage is limited to metropolitan areas. Dallas and Houston are two of 11 U.S. areas that already have Ricochet service, which is being expanded and upgraded. As a result, connection speeds vary depending on location. To check on coverage areas and contact service providers, visit www.ricochet.com.

– Jeremy M. Van Zee


Going laser

Laser printers used to be the snooty cousins of inkjet printers, with high prices and large machines. That's no longer true, and the Samsung ML-4500 laser printer is a prime example.

With a squatty body and the usual off-white color, the ML-4500 doesn't look impressive, but its attributes reveal themselves as it goes about its business. The printer is small and lightweight, yet easily performs the work you might expect of a bigger, more expensive unit.

Setup was no problem, taking less than 15 minutes. I then put the printer through its paces, allowing it to take over some of the printing projects my inkjet normally performs. I was impressed with its capabilities; the printer never bogged down over several days of testing. In addition, the paper never jammed once, a big plus in my book.

As advertised, the printer has an output of eight pages per minute. This applies to text-only pages, however. The speed is cut by about half if graphics are included. At a resolution of 600 dots per inch, the output is crisp and pleasing to the eye.

Samsung bills the ML-4500 as the first laser printer to be introduced at an inkjet price. And at $199, the price is indeed comparable with inkjets. Those who don't need color printing may find the ML-4500 an attractive alternative to inkjet printers.

Call 1-888-887-8536 or go to www.samsungusa.com.

– Steve Powers


Commanding voice

Live voice communication during computer game sessions can make playing more efficient and fun. Those who aren't aware of this technology will soon be, because Microsoft is bringing voice commands and voice chat into the limelight with the SideWinder Game Voice.

Microsoft is the first major company to combine those features in one elegant, integrated package. The Game Voice includes voice recognition software, a headset with microphone and a USB control pad that plugs into your computer's sound card.

After setting the equipment up, I found it quite exciting to talk strategy with friends or taunt opponents during multiplayer games over the Internet or a local area network. The voice command feature, which enables you to bark commands through a microphone to switch weapons or have multiple actions executed automatically, is very useful.

The Game Voice works great most of the time. But it isn't flawless. There is a slight delay between your voice command and the execution of the action, which could prove fatal for your character in heated battles. Additionally, not all games work correctly with the Game Voice, so visit www.gamevoice.com for a complete list and fixes.

The $50 SideWinder Game Voice brings a whole new dimension to gaming. It's a lot of fun despite minor shortcomings. Visit the Web site or call 1-800-426-9400 to learn more.

– Jim Buu


Your music collection – at a touch

At first glance, Creative Technology's Nomad Jukebox might easily be confused with any number of portable CD players. Actually, it's an MP3 player with a unique, compelling twist.

While many MP3 players hold only about an hour's worth of music in flash memory, the Nomad Jukebox can hold up to 100 hours on a built-in, 6-gigabyte hard drive. Storage space is equivalent to more than 1,500 typical songs or 150 CDs.

Talk about a digital revolution.

As with other MP3 players, the Nomad Jukebox works with a personal computer – in its case, either Windows or Macintosh.

It comes with computer software for managing the MP3 files, which can be downloaded from various Internet sites or copied from commercial compact discs.

Music is transferred to the Nomad Jukebox by connecting the device to the computer with a USB cable.

You can listen to the music either through headphones or by connecting the device to portable speakers.

The only disadvantage to a portable system based on a hard drive is that it uses a lot of power. Creative Technology provides two sets of rechargeable AA batteries; each set can run the unit for about four hours.

At $499, the Nomad Jukebox isn't inexpensive, although its capabilities make it a solid value compared with other MP3 players that sell for half as much.

Call 1-800-998-5227 or see www.creative.com.

– Alan Goldstein

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