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Opinion: Disco umbrellas light up the night

Opinion: Disco umbrellas light up the night

IN cities like Seattle and San Francisco, where rain clouds can darken summer days, an illuminated umbrella from Bright Night not only lights up dull spirits but also makes an onlooker's jaw drop. Equally stunning is Logitech's new MX510 optical mouse, which is well-designed and loaded with features that will appeal to gamers.

Logitech's MX510 optical mouse

Better mouse acceleration and lower lag times have traditionally given roller mice an advantage over optical mice among gamers. With the launch of its MX510 Performance Optical Mouse, Logitech Inc. is hoping that gamers will finally adopt optical mice, as it provides minimal lag time, better acceleration and better pointing accuracy. The mouse's 800 dots per inch optical sensor captures 5.8 megapixels of surface information per second, opposed to Logitech's earlier optical mice, which captured 4.7 megapixels of surface information per second. The sleek mouse has seven programmable buttons, making it useful for action gamers, as different weapons can be programmed into the buttons. The US$49.95 mouse is available from Logitech's Web site in two colors -- red and blue.

Dell Inspiron 9100

Is Dell Inc.'s Inspiron 9100 really a laptop? Looks-wise, it definitely is, but carrying it from office to home almost broke my back. This powerful laptop is a notch below Dell's gaming laptop, the Inspiron XPS, and packs many of the same features that make it a great buy for consumers looking for the latest computing technologies and high-end graphics.

Applications loaded quickly and games ran smoothly on a test unit from Dell, which included Intel Corp.'s Pentium 4 Extreme Edition running at 3.2GHz, 512M bytes of RAM, and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Home Edition preinstalled on a 60G-byte hard drive. Using ATI Technologies Inc.'s Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics adapter with 128M bytes of video memory, the 15.4-inch (39.1-centimeter) Ultra XGA TFT-LCD (thin-film transistor liquid crystal display) screen rendered crisp images while playing back DVDs. A TV-Out S-video module allowed a TV to be used as a monitor.

This laptop has many connectivity options. A built-in Mini-PCI wireless network card worked with a software utility to detect wireless networks. It also had an IEEE 1394 Firewire port, a Bluetooth adapter and a 10/100M bps (bits per second) Ethernet module. It ships with a V.92 modem, four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports, one PC Card slot and a DVD-RW drive.

This $2,310 laptop's battery drained quickly: It worked close to two-and-a-half hours on a single battery charge. It also came with the largest power adapter I have ever seen with a laptop. At close to 4.1 kgs without the power adapter, don't expect to move the 9100 often once it is stationed somewhere. However, the laptop works well for what it was intended to be -- a desktop replacement.

Illuminated umbrella

Using Bright Night's Illuminated Umbrella is one sure-fire way to attract attention. It not only keeps you dry, but can also light up your way home with a white krypton bulb under its canopy that lights up to reflect its colorful design. The "durable" umbrella is constructed of denier nylon, Teflon, chrome, silver, polycarbonate and other "space-age" materials, according to the company. It weighs 16 ounces (0.45 kilograms), is 36 inches long, and provides three hours of light on 4 AA batteries. The $38 umbrellas are available in different designs, including red stripe, green wave, blue ripple, black droplet and blue-brown geo, from Wishing Fish's Web site at http://www.wishingfish.com. It comes with two krypton bulbs, a plastic tube, and a handy carrying strap.

Gateway's wireless DVD player

No product in the market yet allows seamless operation between home theater systems and PCs, but Gateway Inc.'s Wireless Connected DVD takes a step in that direction. Using 802.11g Wi-Fi technology, it can wirelessly receive and display multimedia content stored on PCs up to 100 meters, or around 300 feet, away, at a speed of up to 54M bps. The progressive-scan DVD player can in turn stream content back to PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, where the Personal Video Recorder (PVR) feature can record content on a hard drive.

The player supports streaming of MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) content, and MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, Microsoft PVR and AVI (Audio-Video Interleaved) video files. For secure transfer of multimedia content, the DVD player supports 64-bit and 128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption and MAC (Media Access Control) addressing.

The DVD player ships with a wireless card that plugs into the player, and a remote control that assists in its operation and set-up. Setting up the DVD player to connect to a home wireless network was kludgy -- it could be problematic for someone who doesn't have experience dealing with wireless networking terminology like DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) or WEP. Beyond that, the stylish DVD player has a couple of nice features including numerous audio and video outputs, parental controls, which blocks a DVD movie from playback based on its suggested rating, and firmware upgradeability, which can be applied after being downloaded from Gateway's Web site. The US$199 DVD player is available on Gateway's Web site at http://www.gateway.com/home/ce/dvd.shtml.

Wi-Fi seeker

Keychain avatars -- as flash memory disks, presentation lasers -- aren't as cool as the Wi-Fi Seeker keychain gadget from Chrysalis Development LLC. The Wi-Fi Seeker locates the best 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi access point within a 300-feet radius with just the press of one button. Blinking red LED lights indicate that it is seeking a signal, and stabilized red lights indicate the strength and quality of a wireless signal. It typically takes between 0.3 to 0.5 seconds to find a signal, the company said. It costs $29.95 and should become available in June from http://www.wifiseeker.com

Noise-canceling amplifier

GN Netcom Inc.'s new 8210 office headset amplifier enhances the quality of phone calls by filtering out background noise from both incoming and outgoing signals. It plugs into a telephone and uses DSP (digital signal processing) to filter out background noise from an incoming signal received by the phone. The amplified sound is then converted back to analog and sent to the headset.

"With any telephone amp, analog or digital, there is a need to condition signal better. If I'm calling my credit card company, this product can squelch the background noise," said Tobe Cohen, senior vice president of marketing for GN Netcom Inc.

A separate switch on the amplifier can automatically adjust volume, ensuring clarity if a person on the other end is speaking either too softly or too loudly. Also offered on the $140 headset is acoustic protection, a feature that helps protect against noise spikes. The product's interesting features are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that it works only with GN Netcom's proprietary headsets - adding to the cost of an already expensive amplifier. For more information about the 8210, visit GN Netcom's Web site at http://www.gnnetcom.com


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