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High-Tech Gadgets Abound At Comdex

From tablet computers that were unthinkable a few years ago to a wristwatch that would make Dick Tracy envious, hundreds of new gadgets were on display at this year's Comdex high-tech show.

And while it might not change the world, this crop of silicon-embedded wares could offer just enough to jump-start sales.

As at other recent trade shows, mobile and wireless offerings dominated. Increasingly powerful and less expensive chips are being jammed into smaller devices that often feature cordless connectivity to other computers, business networks and the Internet.

A handful of companies — including Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and Acer — demonstrated at Comdex this week business-targeted Tablet PCs that are fully functional mobile computers whose screens can be written on with a pen-like stylus. Prices start at $1,700.

NEC unveiled a prototype of the lightest tablet yet — a 2.1-pound (950-gram) device that's less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) thick. The NEC Versa LitePad is expected to be available next year.

For home users, Microsoft and ViewSonic showed a screen that works like a monitor when docked to a personal computer. When detached, it becomes a tablet that can be carried throughout the house and written on much like a Tablet PC.

Unlike business-centric tablets, such mobile monitors still rely on a host computer for resources.

ViewSonic's Airpanel Smart Displays start at $999 for a 10-inch (25-centimeter) screen and $1,299 for a 15-inch model — several hundred dollars more than similarly sized flat panel displays. Both will be available early next year, and other companies are expected to release their own models.

Blurring the line between tablet and palm-size computers, National Semiconductor Corp. demonstrated a conceptual device called the Geode Extended Office. About the size of a 5-inch-by-7-inch (12.5-centimeter-by-17.5-centimeter) framed photograph, it is a fully functional Windows XP computer with wireless capabilities and a 6-inch (15-centimeter), pen-sensitive screen. It weighs just over 1 1/2 pounds (about 700 grams).

Amid the tablet hype, handheld computers were unveiled with advanced features and lower prices.

Dell Computer Corp. jumped into the business with its Axim X5, which starts at $199 after a rebate and is among the least expensive to run Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.

Hewlett-Packard released two iPaq handhelds: a $299 entry-level model and a $699 high-end unit that has built-in wireless networking and a fingerprint reader for data security. Both run Microsoft's Pocket PC.

Palm, which still dominates the handheld market, did not release new models at Comdex. In October, it unveiled the entry-level $99 Zire and the high-end $499 Tungsten T.

But Palm's soon-to-be spun off software subsidiary, PalmSource, announced at the show that it had struck a deal with watchmaker Fossil to add its operating system to a watch that will be available early next year.

The time pieces, unlike previous watches with scaled-down software, are full-powered Palms. There are drawbacks, including a stamp-sized screen, a thick face and a battery that lasts only about four days before recharge. Prices are expected to start at $199.

Cell phones also were unveiled with more features and new styles.

Nokia unveiled its 6200 handset, which can be used on several networks, surfs the Web twice as fast as today's top models and sports a color screen, voice recorder and even a stereo FM radio. The company also said it had developed a technology that allows simple text messages to be sent between users on different cellular networks.

Nokia also showed off a cell phone that brings back memories of grandma's house. The Nokia 3650's buttons are laid out like an old-style rotary phone. The blast from the past ends there — it's got a built-in color camera that can take still pictures and video.

Aside from portables, companies also showed off improvements to one of the original high-tech gadgets, the personal computer.

Nvidia Corp. showed off its overdue, next-generation graphics card. The GeForce FX, which will hit store shelves in February, generates near-cinematic 3D graphics and realistic skin tones on a PC. Prices were not disclosed.

Maxtor Corp. upped PC storage with a 250 gigabyte hard drive that offers 33 percent faster data transfer than current drives. The $400 device can store 62,500 songs, 250 hours of compressed video or 250,000 digital pictures.

A number of computer makers also showed off visually impressive designs. Alienware unveiled the Navigator, a computer reminiscent of Apple Computer Inc.'s G4 Cube. The Navigator, designed for the living room and starting at $1,699, runs Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition.