Feature

My true love gave to me

What to buy for Christmas? Never mind partridges, hens and doves, let Xtra!'s gadget reviewer, Paul Smith, guide you through the year's most desirable gizmos

I'm not asking for sympathy or anything here, but you've got to appreciate this is not an easy job. I mean, all year round cool stuff comes out, I call up the manufacturers and they go, "Okay, we'll bike it right round." Which is fine, until the follow-up call, "Okay, we want it back now." It's just not reasonable; any gadgeteer will know a bond forms between you and your desirables. A bond that's hard to break.

So, come Christmas, I look back on the year and wonder who is going to fill my stocking with the most luscious of stuff I've had for just long enough to fall in love with it.

After much painful thought, I've honed it down to five - yes, a mere five - of the most desirable items of 2000.

Of course, that means many have been left out. Chief among them are the Ericsson T28s (still the neatest mobile phone out there), the Visioneer Strobe Pro (my most useful gadget, but the only thing new about it this year was USB support) and the Play Station 2, because, frankly, you've either got one already or you're not going to get one until 2001.

Iomega HipZip MP3 player, Iomega, £289.99

www.iomega.com

Gadget-wise, 2000 has really been the year of MP3. There have been a host of digital music products around, but two stand out. The first is Iomega's HipZip, a small MP3 player that gets around one of the biggest problems with the format: expensive media costs.

That's because the HipZip uses Iomega's quite cool PocketZip discs (originally called Clik!). These 40Mbyte slivers of floppy disc are considerably cheaper than anything solid-state: a 64Mbyte SmartMedia card costs about £120, making 40Mbyte worth roughly £75. PocketZip discs start from £6.50 each. So, you can start carrying a number around with you. You get two discs with the player.

The player itself is, as you'd expect from Iomega, rather smart looking, thanks to its Body Glove belt-clip case (it's rubbery, you see). It's not the cheapest player: you can get a Diamond Rios for less than £170. But it is smart looking and it does the job. Sound quality is good, the player is robust enough for jogging (apparently - I couldn't motivate myself to test this feature) and the software, including a full version of MusicMatch, sets the player up as a drive on your PC.

Psion WaveFinder digital radio, Psion, £299.99

www.wavefinder.com

For sheer design bravado, this year's prize must go to Psion and its WaveFinder USB digital radio receiver. This is an extraordinarily beautiful alien oval shape with tendril aerials and a shimmering heart that constantly changes colour.

The principle is pretty straightforward. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) was launched last year to almost universal indifference, mainly because of the outrageous cost of the hardware (a problem, I hasten to add, the WaveFinder doesn't exactly bury for good). Broadcast over a handful of multiplex transmitters is digital, CD-quality radio from most of the stations that you know and love - the BBC, Kiss, Capital, Virgin, Ministry of Sound. With a Dab receiver, you can receive these anywhere you can get a signal.

The WaveFinder calls on your PC to do the intensive stuff, while it just sits on your wall looking spectacular.

The software is a letdown, frankly. You can record direct to MP3 but cannot do obvious things such as timed recordings. However, Psion assures me this is the sort of feature planned for updates.

Creative DAP Jukebox MP3 player, Creative, £399

www.nomadworld.com

The other desirable bit of MP3 kit is the extraordinary DAP Jukebox. This portable-CD-sized player is a remarkable 6Gbyte MP3 player. That means you've got 1,000 hours of space. And that is pretty much every Supertramp album I've got, with a lot of Britney thrown in.

Smooth lines and a most pleasing blue metallic hue mitigate its weight: carrying this around means you will have all your music with you. Everywhere.

And, if you still need more space, there are warranty-destroying instructions on the Web about how to install your own hard disc in there.

Managing all these files is likely to be a concern and the Dap Jukebox uses a couple of methods to help, separating the complete library from the "active queue" of tracks you want to play. However, its five-line, 25-character display means this is not, in the end, a complete success.

But much is simplified by using the desktop software that not only rips and encodes, but creates playlists, so you don't have to worry about it on the move.

Altogether one of the coolest toys on the planet.

FMD-700 video glasses, Olympus, £1,099 (Sender/receiver: £299.99)

www.eye-trek.co.uk

For those with rich uncles, there is one gadget sure to make a big impression on anyone who tries it - the Olympus FMD-700 video glasses.

These are screens that you wear. About the size of sunglasses and only slightly heavier, the FMD-700 uses a prism system to relay images from your TV, DVD player, VCR, game console or even PC. It gives the impression of sitting in front of a giant screen and is way too realistic for Colin McRae 2.0!

The idea is to free you from the confines of your TV room, but to truly enable this you need to buy the separate sender/receiver unit, which broadcasts wireless signals around the place. You'll probably also need to buy the separate battery and charger. The price really mounts up. Combined with a portable DVD player, or a notebook with DVD drive, this makes for a most entertaining airplane journey.

Even if the film's rubbish, you'll be the envy of everyone in first class - and that's the point isn't it?

TiVo, TiVo, £399.99

www.uk.tivo.com

TiVo has changed my so-called life. This is the first "personal video recorder", a hard-disc-based digital TV recorder.

The large, silver box, slightly bigger than a VCR, has no buttons, just two small lights, one to tell you it's on and the other to tell you it's recording.

All it does is record programmes off the TV, or digibox or analogue box or - soon - cable. But in doing so it answers pretty much all the limitations of using a VCR. So, gone are those long VideoPlus codes (my, it was only 10 years ago that VideoPlus was a revelation); and you can say goodbye to video tapes.

It works by using a programme database (costing £10 a month), which you can scroll through or search. And you can record a whole series of your favourite programmes in one step.

The TiVo also keeps a running 30-minute buffer, so you can pause or even rewind any live programme and then use slow-motion or frame-forward to review it.

You can also rate everything you watch and TiVo will start recording stuff it thinks you might enjoy. Top toy of 2000.


This was first published in December 2000

 

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