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Hardware & Infrastructure

Personal Tech Guide

Your guide to what's hot, useful, and just plain fun.

Sientate, FidoSientate, Fido
Sony has taught its robot dog a few new tricks. The Aibo robot, model ERS--7M3, comes bundled with new Aibo Mind 3 software that lets it say and recognize more than 1,000 English and about 30 Spanish words and phrases, including sientate (sit), ven aqui (come here), and buen perro (good dog).The software gives Aibo increased "petlike actions" and motions for more--natural body language. Slated to ship by month's end, Aibo can't bring you the paper, but it can receive RSS feeds and read the news to you. And its $2,000 starting price is right in line with the cost of a fancy pure--bred puppy.

Store And GoStore And Go
Who says you can't take it with you? A little bigger than a matchbook, the ArcDisk pocket hard drive from Archos lets you carry huge amounts of data wherever you go. And it plugs into just about any PC. The $150 device, which uses a 4--Gbyte Hitachi drive, is so small that it's easy to lose in a stuffed purse, pocket, or briefcase. Not to worry, it comes with a thin wrist strap that you can attach to the drive, making it instant techno--jewelry. Wow, data--rich and nouveau riche.

Candid CameraCandid Camera
The Casio EX--S500 is a very small, very fast, and very fun digital camera. Despite its Lilliputian dimensions, the $399 card--size, 5--megapixel, 3X optical zoom has good heft, feels anything but fragile, and gets high marks in the "Wow, that's a camera?" category. The EX--S500 uses the Casio Exilim digital--image processor and requires just a few minutes to get acquainted with the navigation menus on the 2.2--inch monitor screen, even for the photographically challenged.

Kick In The KeisterKick In The Keister
Most top video games marry earthshaking sounds with high--quality graphics, and some even throw in a vibrating handheld controller. But let's face it: Sitting in a chair playing video games feels pretty much like, well, sitting in a chair. A new device called the Buttkicker Gamer gives video games a kick in the pants. The $170 thick metal device from Guitammer clamps tightly to the center post of most office chairs. Powered by a 100--watt amplifier and low--frequency transducer, it shakes powerfully when a game emits low bass audio frequencies.

Free To RoamFree To Roam
For those of us who want the cost savings of voice over IP but don't want to be chained to our desks, a new VoIP Wi--Fi phone from Viper Networks is a roamer's dream come true. The Wi--Fi 3100 vPhone provides four hours of talk time and up to 100 hours of standby time. Viper offers the $179 phone as part of its VoIP network service, simplifying tech issues. But don't throw out that cell phone. Even in urban areas, Wi--Fi service can be spotty.

Digital AtticDigital Attic
No matter how big your closets are, it's sure nice to have a spacious attic to stow the junk you're not ready to throw out. With more families having multiple PCs and a home network, the NetGear Storage Central SC101 (about $400 for 640 Gbytes) can serve as a digital attic. It uses Zetera's Z--LAN technology to attach the drive as a node on your network, so data access is done through the network, not through anyone's computer. Additional $35 software syncs PCs so they can use Storage Central to backup files, so those precious meeting notes are preserved for posterity. Just like that leopard--skin coat up in the attic.

>Priority TrafficPriority Traffic
Trying to read E--mail over your home broadband network, and it's crawling along like dial--up? It wouldn't be because the kid upstairs is playing Everquest while streaming in his own sound track, would it? Hawking Technology's HBB1 Broadband Booster senses the data flow and prioritizes it based on a proprietary algorithm called Stream Engine (by Ubicom). The $71 device usually works fine out of the box, but you can change the default settings, if you dare. You probably don't need this tool unless there's a lot of gaming, voice--over--IP, or music and video traffic on your network. If that's the case, it's nice to give your traffic priority over those on the network who aren't exactly paying rent.

Podcast Nirvana
Want less Pearl Jam and more "JivaDiva Yoga Jam" on your MP3 player? Yahoo last week started a beta version of a podcast search service that lets users search and subscribe to tens of thousands of podcasts (yes, the Yoga Jam is real) and heightening the Web portal's competition with Apple's iTunes music service. With so many podcast choices, one key feature to Yahoo's service might be to let consumers rate and review podcasts. Rival America Online plans to add them to its search engine this fall.

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