Gadgets & Gizmos


Thursday, October 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


Do-it-yourself droids

Around our house, you could always tell when my younger brother was playing with his latest Lego contraption. He'd be on the floor, making all sorts of sound effects while moving his creations around the room.

The new Lego Mindstorms Star Wars Dark Side Developer Kit is the toy he dreamed of. For ages 9 and up, the kit provides detailed instructions for building Star Wars robots.

Best of all, these contraptions come alive with the Micro Scout Lego microcomputer. The Micro Scout is the backbone of each of the robots. When the inventor adds the proper gears, cogs, legs and joints, the battery-powered computer can become anything from a small, walking droid to a ponderous, foot-tall transport like the ones that fought in the desert scenes of the Star Wars movies.

The computer has a built-in light sensor, a built-in motor and seven programs. Droids can follow preset routines or react to light signals from a flashlight.

The kit, which began hitting stores in September, has more than 500 pieces at a suggested retail price of $99. The instructions are clear enough that almost any child can follow them. My 8-year-old son was able to build a droid by himself. He programmed it to shoot at me when learning that we had to return the review set.

Call 1-800-835-4386 or see www.legomindstorms.com.

– J. Lynn Lunsford


Two-ways up to two miles

Forget about those walkie-talkies from your childhood, which seemed to work only in your back yard. Staying connected while roaming far and wide is a cinch with the new Motorola Talkabout T6300 radios, which have a two-mile range.

The durable, two-way radios are powered by AA batteries or a rechargeable battery. A quick read of the manual is helpful before trying to find and set a clear channel. An "eavesdrop eliminator'' setting makes your transmissions sound garbled to a third party.

Our T6310 radios were fine at the mall, providing clear reception as we used the divide-and-conquer approach for back-to-school shopping. They also worked well for passengers in different cars. However, we couldn't establish a clear connection between a grocery store and home, which may have been just beyond range.

Compact and durable, the Talkabouts have a removable belt clip. Vibrating or audio alerts signal incoming calls. Other features include a clock, alarm, stopwatch and FM stereo radio. The device also receives NOAA weather broadcasts and can bring in emergency weather alerts.

Overall, if you rely on mobile phones daily, two-way radios are no substitute in range or in communication. But they are a great tool for family outings or road trips, where mobile phones might incur per-minute charges or expensive roaming fees.

The T6300 series comes in three models and five colors, with a suggested price of $159 to $179. Call 1-800-668-6765 or visit www.motorola.com.

– Dave Tarrant


A pause in the music

The newest digital media player from Sensory Science is reminiscent of those 5,000-piece Lego sets: Spiffy toy, provided you have time to play with it.

The rave:mp 2300 lets you download MP3 audio files from your computer's hard drive to a PocketZip disc, which stores 80 minutes of Internet music and, until recently, was called a Clik! The player comes with two of the 40-megabyte discs; buy more, and you've got unlimited expandability.

But first you've got to download the necessary software, which proved to be an arduous task in my case, involving multiple failed attempts on both desktop and laptop. The laptop also froze several times while running the software.

In addition to playing digital music, the mp 2300 functions as a personal assistant, with a voice recorder, a calendar and the ability to export contacts from Microsoft Outlook.

The player is sleek and well-designed with an easy-to-navigate menu, and the sound quality is good. Anyone who considers a Walkman or Discman a necessity should consider the $299 mp 2300.

It works with Windows computers that have a USB connection, although Sensory Science says Macintosh software is forthcoming. See www.ravemp.com or call 480-609-9200.

– Shawna Seed


Call your 2,500 closest friends

Sprint PCS cuts through the hoopla surrounding voice-controlled dialing with a service that lets you call up to 2,500 pre-programmed numbers on a mobile phone.

The service, Voice Command, works with any Sprint PCS phone and costs $10 a month. It uses speech recognition, not voice recognition. In essence, this means that the phone doesn't have to learn what you sound like, as in voice recognition. The service relies instead on software that understands common names.

You must first set up a personal phone book on a Sprint Web site. I uploaded a lengthy list of numbers from Microsoft Outlook onto the site using a built-in import function. The service is activated by hitting a combination of keys. Seconds later, a male voice says, "Ready."

You make the call with simple commands such as "Call Bill Smith at home." The voice asks you to confirm the command, then dials the number from the database you have built.

Sprint asks that you type in harder-to-pronounce names phonetically, so the computer can match what you are saying with the name in the database. Voice Command did reasonably well when I tested it with obscure names of friends and relatives.

This service provides an ingenious solution for heavy users of cell phones who don't want to lug around an address book. It's also useful when you are flying down Central Expressway and can't safely look up a number in your hand-held organizer and dial it. Call 1-888-211-4727 or see www.sprintpcs.com.

– Vikas Bajaj


Ready to rumble

Shopping for a decent computer game pad is frustrating because of all the junk out there. Many controllers are clumsy, bulky, designed for a specific type of game, difficult to program or provide jerky movement.

But Logitech recently introduced a $29.95, multifunction, plug-and-play controller that should suit most every gamer's needs. Using the Wingman Rumblepad is a simple three-step process: Right-click the tool bar icon on your monitor after loading the software, select the game you have loaded and play your game with one of 285 pre-programmed profiles for button functions. Advanced gamers may like the optional software program to customize the buttons and optimize performance.

This is a dual-motor controller that responds with a wide range of feedback and intensity. It draws power from the computer's USB port – no batteries or separate power supply needed. The Rumblepad has two ultra-accurate analog sticks, an 8-way D-pad, a throttle control and nine programmable buttons. The pad features a button for changing quickly from a sports setup to one more suited for flight simulation games and driving. It works well with virtually any action, sports, arcade, role-playing, racing or flying game.

Because the underside of the controller has molded forefinger grooves, any size hand can grasp and operate the controls with ease. Dial 1-800-231-7717 or see www.logitech.com.

– Harold E. Scull Jr.