Meet Audrey, 3Com's wired appliance

The $US499 device is designed for accessing the Web and e-mail. 3Com has designed it with a keen sense of style, so perhaps its name is intended to remind you of Hepburn.

This slab of cream-colored plastic with shiny steel buttons frames a responsive 4.75-by-6.25-inch color touchscreen. The unit would look right at home in a well-appointed kitchen or a hip doctor's office.

Its sceptrelike stylus is Audrey's crowning touch: When not in use, it rests in a recess atop the unit like an Internet antenna; when you have e-mail, its top blinks with a green glow.

3Com announced its foray into Internet appliances last Autumn, intending to ship the first member of the product family this Winter. Then-chairman Eric Benhamou declared the units would be "bigger than Palm," the venture that makes handheld devices and spun off from 3Com earlier this year.

Access and Interface Options

Some of the 60 keys on Audrey's wireless keyboard were a little too narrow for a typist with large hands. But instead of typing e-mail messages, you can use the stylus to write one on the touchscreen (your scribble is sent as a .gif attachment) or use the built-in microphone to record a message (as a .wav file) up to three minutes long.

Audrey comes with a custom browser and works with many standard dial-up connections. If you add an optional $US59 Ethernet adapter, you can use high-speed Internet connections.

A centrally located knob on the front lets you flip through 12 content channels specially tailored to the unit. You can refresh these pages by tapping an Update Channel button, or Audrey can perform updates automatically at intervals you can program. Mail and data will be only as current as the last update.

The Audrey appliance allows you to choose your Internet connection, instead of being accompanied with the cost of a designated ISP, as with the Microsoft Network Companions.

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Peter Olafson

PC World

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