Elgan: Gadgets that will make your cell phone jealous

There's no question that cell phones are the Mother of All Convergence Devices. In the past 10 years, bland, single-purpose cell phones have assimilated digital cameras, media players, PDAs, GPS devices, camcorders and much more.

This is a welcome trend. Convergence means we get to carry these toys everywhere we go -- without filling our pockets, wearing a Batman utility belt or lashing a dorky fanny pack to our midsections.

Cell phones are great for convergence because we always carry our phones. Stand-alone digital cameras, Global Positioning System devices and others might be left at home most of the time, but anything built into the camera goes everywhere.

But phones aren't the only objects carried everywhere. Sunglasses, wristwatches and pens go, too -- and that's why they're getting the convergence treatment.

Suddenly, a new generation of these gadgets is shaking up the gizmosphere. Here's what's new:

MP3 camera sunglasses

Music-playing sunglasses have been around for a while, and the newest versions from Oakley Inc. offer integrated MP3 electronics and Bluetooth connectivity to your existing player. A huge number of copycat music-playing sunglasses have emerged as well. One particularly nice alternative to Oakley, from iSonic, plays MP3s and also lets you record voice notes.

Secret spy sunglasses designed to record pictures or video are also nothing new and are usually available at very high prices from shady spy shops and online catalogs. Spy sunglasses typically have the lens hidden in the frame with a wire that leads to a pocket where the actual camera is concealed.

New sunglasses take all this to a new level.

Camcorder Spy Sunglasses bring the spy-camera concept in from the cold. Cables are unnecessary because all camera electronics are built directly into the frame.

I think it's a great way to carry a regular camera all the time, but it's a lousy "spy" camera. It doesn't look like a regular pair of sunglasses. And it doesn't have a hidden or wireless shutter button -- you have to reach up and click the button in order to take a picture.

The built-in camera/camcorder features a 1.3-megapixel camera with 2GB storage built in, plus a microSD slot for additional storage. It connects to your PC via USB. The glasses cost $186.

Another product called Aigo Camera Sunglasses takes eyewear to a new extreme by combining both the Oakley MP3 concept with the built-it-all-into-the-frame idea. These glasses do it all, and without external wires. (There is a wireless remote for snapping pictures.) You can buy them from Brando Workshop for $165.

Cell-phone-enhancing watches with style

Camera, MP3 and even cell-phone wristwatches have been around for a long time. Some of these can be pretty extreme. But they also tend to be extremely ugly and bulky.

But one company makes watches that actually look good enough to wear for business meetings or going out at night. Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB makes several lines of wristwatches that control functions on your cell phone via Bluetooth.

These watches alert you to calls with watch vibration, and they show caller ID. They let you answer or mute calls, control music on your cell phone, or get Short Messaging Service alerts -- all without taking the phone out of your briefcase, purse or pocket.

Sony Ericsson has been selling two stylish lines of men's Bluetooth watches, the MBW-100 and MBW-150, for some time.

This week, the company rolled out a new line for women, which does the same things the men's watches do. The MBW-200 comes in three styles: "Sparkling Allure," "Contemporary Elegance" and "Evening Classic."

Truth be told, I never thought I'd used the words "sparkling allure" on Computerworld.com, but these watches are designed to look like regular, fashionable watches, setting them apart from the hundreds of clunky, MBW-100geeky microchip-enhanced wristwatches on the market.

The MBW-200 will become available next month at as-yet-unannounced prices.

Audio, ink and digital pen

Digital pens have been around for years. Some of them are simple digital voice recorders, enabling you to record voice notes or entire meetings.

Another major kind of digital pen is much more sophisticated. Digital ink pens track the movement of the pen itself to capture what's written.

The most compelling general-purpose and newish product combines both of these capabilities, then tosses in a pinch of synergy to do something no other electronic pen does.

The Livescribe Pulse digital pen lets you hit the "record" button to tape audio -- say a university lecture or business meeting -- and use the pen to take real notes on paper with actual ink and digital ink, all at the same time.

The magic is that the audio and notes are synchronized. All you have to do is tap part of your notes, and the pen will replay the audio recorded while you were writing what you tapped on.

The pen itself is a marvel of miniaturized electronic intelligence. And you have to use special note paper, which has sound-control buttons printed on the bottom (play, pause, forward, reverse, etc.) that actually work when you click on them with the pen.

Once you've imported everything onto your PC (Mac is not supported), you can search the audio file by searching for keywords or phrases you scribbled in your notes.

The Livescribe Pulse digital pen costs $150 or $200, depending on storage capacity.

So move over, cell phone. You're not the only gadget carried everywhere. A new generation of intelligent sunglasses, wristwatches and pens provides incredible new functionality, and they're ready to go everywhere.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. He blogs about the technology needs, desires and successes of mobile warriors in his Computerworld blog, "The World Is My Office." You can contact him at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, "The Raw Feed."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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