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Gadgets and gizmos

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A look and a listen

It used to be that if your shoes matched the color of your purse, you were fashionably correct. But these days, style-conscious technophiles struggle to coordinate beepers to backpacks and cell phones to clutches – all in the proper hue.

Sony's new w.ear headphones (model MDR-Q33LP) are yet another gadget that you can coordinate to match your outfit or mood. Interchangeable colored caps snap easily onto the outside of the earpieces. Blue lamé, mint green and shiny pink are among a dozen trendy colors available.

W.ear headphones do away with the headband and neckband. Innovative spring action earpieces slip comfortably over the outside of your ears. They are ultra-lightweight and feel natural on your ears, even after extended wearing. While exercising, my test pair remained securely in place.

Sony has incorporated powerful neodymium magnets and 30 mm drivers into the units, providing maximum energy in a minimum size. They were designed to allow ambient sound to filter through. This is a nice safety feature for people who might use them to listen to a radio while jogging outdoors.

The headphones retail for $30. They come with two pairs of mix-and-match headphone caps and a nearly 5-foot, chain-style cord. Extra sets of colored caps cost $6 a pair. Contact Sony at 1-800-222-7669 or visit www.sel.sony.com.

– Jeanette Prasifka


Bargain gaming gear for your PC

Hard-core computer gamers may have no problem forking out big money for a graphics card based on Nvida's powerful GeForce2 chip set.

For the masses, though, the Hercules 3D Prophet II MX is easier on the wallet.

The 3D Prophet II MX is a three-dimensional processor with bells and whistles much like those in the more expensive GeForce2.

Although slower than the full-scale GeForce2, it's two to three times faster than the last generation of accelerators.

Similar to most current, big-league video cards, the 3D Prophet II MX comes with a heat sink for cooling and 32 megabytes of random access memory for higher display resolution and deeper color.

Games I tried out, including Unreal Tournament and the Need For Speed racing series, played beautifully at 1024 X 768 pixel resolution and 16 million colors.

At $150 retail, the 3D Prophet II MX may not seem like a budget item, but it is. The card offers all the latest and greatest features of the full-blown GeForce2 for at least $100 less.

The card works with Microsoft Windows 95, 98 and 2000. Call 1-877-484-5536 or visit www.hercules.com.

Note: Hercules says that a less expensive version of the card made for computer manufacturers runs slower than the retail version.

– Jim Buu


Solely surfing

Internet appliance: The term may sound futurist, but it's here today in the form of the NIC and a handful of other devices.

The NIC, or New Internet Computer, is an incredibly simple machine that lets you do one thing: surf the Internet. It's a $199, Linux-based computer that runs the Netscape browser. That's all. In fact, the NIC doesn't have a hard drive. The operating system, browser, multimedia software and printer driver are on a CD-ROM.

With the CD in the drive, you start the machine and boot into Netscape. The disc comes preloaded with NetZero's free dial-up Internet access. You can also use your dial-up or broadband ISP, although America Online is not supported.

Because the NIC won't let you store e-mail or attachments, you'll have to use Web-based e-mail such Yahoo.mail.

The NIC has a 266 MHz processor, 64MB RAM, a CD-ROM drive, 56Kbps modem, 10/100 Ethernet port for DSL or cable modem access, two USB ports and speakers. There is also 4MB of flash memory for bookmarks.

A PS/2 keyboard and mouse are included. The optional 15-inch monitor brings the price up to $329.98, but any VGA monitor will work.

This is a great setup for people uneasy around computers or just wanting simple Net access. You can't download files, store information or install software, so the NIC won't give you a headache. Call 1-877-220-0925 or see www.thinknic.com.

– Jim Rossman


At your command

Budding Napoleons, take heart: Microsoft's Sidewinder Strategic Commander puts your entire army right at your fingertips. Designed purely for computer strategy games such as Command & Conquer, the Strategic Commander eliminates tedious text input and allows you to spend more time plotting strategy and coordinating attacks.

The Strategic Commander looks like an oversized mouse. It fits into your left hand while you use a traditional mouse in your right. The Microsoft device sports 13 buttons that can be programmed with up to 72 commands, such as "build," "attack" and "harvest." You can also rotate the top section of the Commander to zoom in and out of the battlefield, change perspectives and scroll the view up or down.

The design of the Strategic Commander has both pros and cons. The device fits comfortably in your hand, and the buttons are properly aligned beneath your fingers, meaning you never have to take your eyes off the screen.

There are so many button combinations, though, that using them all makes it difficult to remember what any single one does. So, rather than programming all your keyboard commands right away, you're better off starting with a few staple combinations and slowly adding more as your memorize them.

The Strategic Commander places power in your hands, but at $65, it's probably not for the casual weekend warrior. Dial 425-635-7040 or log on to www.microsoft.com/sidewinder.

– Victor Godinez


Play it all

The Go.Video DVR-5000 from Sensory Science is to home theater what a Swiss Army knife is to your toolbox. The $399 unit plays DVDs, compact discs, VHS tapes and MP3 music on recordable CDs.

This is not a stripped-down model. The DVD player offers Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and DTS digital output. The four-head VCR plays in Hi-Fi stereo. VCR Plus+ C3 technology for simplified taping is included. (No, you can't record copy-protected DVD movies onto a VHS tape.)

The VCR is as good as any I've used. The DVD player produced crisp images even on my ancient TV set. And the digital sound, even routed through just two speakers, was crystalline, especially when things were exploding or being smashed. However, music from the DVD player lacked depth; it seemed more natural from the VHS side.

Other things I disliked: The DVD player proved sensitive to dirty discs. Several movies I rented froze at least once for a second or two. Although the on-screen controls are clear and easy – the clock even sets itself – I never did become comfortable with the remote.

If you're assembling something other than an average home-theater system, opt for separate components that turn in a more craftsmanlike performance. But if you're going for convenience, the DVR-5000 might be everything you need.

Visit www.sensoryscience.com or call 602-922-0896.

– Michael Merschel
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