COMDEX: Browse the Net from your backyard

Picture a wireless device the size of an Etch-a-Sketch toy that you can carry anywhere around your house (or backyard) to browse the Web and send e-mail. On Monday, National Semiconductor's Cyrix subsidiary debuted a prototype gadget, dubbed the WebPad, that provides just this capability.

To be available in the US starting mid-1999, the company will work with partners such as Internet service providers, telephone companies, cable providers and PC makers to build the actual devices.

The prototype WedPad that Cyrix showed off is a thin, flat pad with a 10.4-inch active-matrix display; it runs on the company's Media GX processor. You can hold the WebPad on your lap like you would a notepad. It runs four to six hours on a lithium ion battery and weighs less than three pounds.

The WebPad lacks a modem. Instead, it works in concert with several types of Net connections, such as dial-up, cable modem, Digital Subscriber Line, or DirecPC-type satellite access. The WebPad uses radio frequency transmissions to tap into that Internet connection, and let you surf the net anywhere within a 500-foot range of the accompanying RF transceiver -- which might be located in the user's cable box, PC or a separate base station. The WebPad also has built-in speakers and a microphone for making Internet phone calls.

Cyrix says the devices will cost about $US300 to build, so consumers may receive WebPads for low cost -- or free -- from Internet access providers. The devices can use Windows CE or other operating systems.

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