High-tech tools for your wrist

You've heard of wearing your heart on your sleeve--so how about wearing your newest tech gadget on your wrist?

Several products on display at CeBIT give an ordinary wristwatch a high-tech touch, from flash memory storage to a fully functional personal digital assistant. But most of these devices are likely to be more geek than chic.

Mini-Me PDA

Palmsource is the biggest name showing a high-tech watch. The company is teaming with Fossil on the Wrist PDA, scheduled to be released in June. The devices aren't on display, but a company representative is wearing one.

The Watch PDA looks like an oversized men's watch--with oversized the key word. Chris Dunphy, the Palm rep wearing the watch, says the oversized look is in style, but on a woman's wrist a watch this big looks more than a little out of place. Despite its oversized face, the 160-by-160 display is difficult to read when too much information is on the screen.

The watch runs Palm OS 4.1, and has a 33-MHz Dragonball processor and 2MB of memory. One interesting feature is its miniature stylus, which is hidden inside the watchband and pops out so you can tap the tiny screen.

The Wrist PDA comes in three designs: a silver metallic model, one with a brown leather band, and a sport model. Prices range from US$275 to $295.

Really Early Adopters

So, is anyone interested in wearing their PDA on their wrist? Dunphy admits the watch is targeted--initially at least--at technology enthusiasts and early adopters. Those folks likely already have PDAs, as well as watches, so will they want another gadget? Amazon.com Inc., where the watches are already on preorder, thinks so.

The Wrist PDA has been in Amazon's Early Adopters Boutique since June 1. While online retailer won't disclose actual sales figures, it is "really pleased with the strong interest in the watch," says Ling Hong, an Amazon.com spokesperson.

Which style most appeals to these technology enthusiasts? It's the metal-banded watch, which is outselling the sport band at a rate of three-to-one, and outselling the leather band five to one.

Thanks for the Memory

Also on display are two watches from Xonix: the Mega Memory Watch and the PDA watch.

The PDA watch stores names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses, and features a schedule pad for your calendar or to-do list. The watch, like Xonix's Mega Memory Watch, has a plastic wristband in a variety of basic colors, including navy blue and black. The display is not as large and bulky as the Fossil Watch PDA, but the watch overall is simply a different style--it looks more like an everyday digital watch. It has been available in the U.S. for about a year, and sells for about $50, according to Bill Akata, Xonix's vice president of sales and marketing.

More interesting is the Mega Memory Watch, which offers up to 256MB of storage built into a perfectly ordinary-looking wristwatch. Xonix's watch is very similar to the Laks Memory Watch, announced earlier this year by Cartagena Handels, an Austrian company that sells wristwatches under the Laks brand name.

The Mega Memory Watch is scheduled to be available in the U.S. later this month, in 32, 64, 128, and 256MB capacities. Prices are not set, but are expected to range between $50 and $100, according to Xonix.

The company's timepieces have a built-in USB cable that slides (almost) unobtrusively into the wristband when not in use. You pull it out to connect the watch directly to your PC for syncing. The devices are designed to be plug-and-play compatible, and need no drivers for Windows ME and higher. You simply plug the watch into your PC, transfer your files, slap it on your wrist, and go.

Fashion Police

How does the Mega Memory Watch look on your wrist? It's a little bulky and not only somewhat plain, but unfashionable--plastic wristbands with the hint of a USB cable poking out are unlikely to match your best business attire. The design is simple and, while the watch may be large on a woman's wrist, it wouldn't draw unnecessary attention on a man's arm. But if you already have a watch, will you really buy another simply for its data storage space?

All of these watches are truly designed to be conversation pieces. If you're looking for a cool new toy, and you have the money to spare, they're interesting and fun to play with. But if your technology budget is limited, these high-tech watches are not likely to top your shopping list. As for me, well, I'm just going to stick with my good old-fashioned, low-tech Timex.

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Liane Cassavoy

PC World
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