Edward C. Baig
For all the impressive wall-size plasma televisions and other high-tech gear on display at CES, the electronics stage is as much about gizmos and services aimed at people on the move. Here are a few developments affecting consumers who put a premium on portability:
Mini-PC. It is billed as the ''smallest available laptop,'' even if your ''lap'' isn't really part of the equation. Still, the one-pound Vulcan Mini-PC is an honest-to-goodness personal computer capable of running Windows XP, Microsoft Office and most PC programs. Folded into a clamshell, the Vulcan fits inside a coat pocket.
The tiny computer is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Vulcan, which has spent the past 1 years designing the machine, hopes to license the concept to PC manufacturers. If all goes smoothly, a pre-release version is due this spring.
Though pricing will be left to the companies that ultimately put their name on the device, Vulcan estimates its cost at $1,200 to $1,500. The device has a small Qwerty keyboard, suitable for hunting and pecking with two fingers, and ''hot keys'' that take you directly to your calendar, e-mail and other apps. It could include a dock that would let users attach a bigger monitor and other add-ons.
The Mini-PC boasts a lovely 5.8-inch color LCD screen that Vulcan claims is ideal for watching DVDs. (You would connect a player through USB.) According to the company, a standard battery probably will get you through at least one movie; an optional thicker cell may be good for a double feature. Other specs: a 1.8-inch 20GB hard drive and 256 MB of memory. Also on board will be integrated wireless capabilities for connecting to cyberspace or a home network. One current limitation: The Mini-PC cannot display 3-D graphics, which might limit you from playing certain games.
The Garmin PDA. Palm loyalists may feel lost without their favorite personal digital assistant. But what if their PDAs could keep them from getting lost? That's the premise behind the new Garmin iQue 3600, a Palm-based personal digital assistant with Global Positioning System smarts. It's the first Palm with built-in GPS capabilities.
The Garmin has all the standard Palm organizer features, plus a microphone, 32 megabytes of memory and an SD memory card slot. But when you flip up the antenna to its upright position, the unit starts communicating with the GPS satellites, allowing the device to pinpoint your location on Earth. Garmin says iQue is typically accurate within 20 to 30 feet, or less than 10 feet in certain areas.
You can load maps with general info about highways, streets and rivers, and choose to add data on restaurants, hotels and sightseeing attractions. You also can have the unit give audible driving directions. The iQue is a little large and heavy (5.2 ounces), and at $589 list, it is in the high-rent district for Palm-based devices. It is expected this spring.
theBoom. The way the stock market has fizzled over the past couple of years, most financial traders haven't had much to shout about. But those financial folks still work in deafening environments such as the New York Stock Exchange, which has been one of the proving grounds for a Bay Area company called UmeVoice, whose specialty is eliminating background noise. Now, UmeVoice is bringing its acoustical talents to mainstream cellphone users. This latest wrinkle on noise cancellation means you can speak softly into a microphone attached to a portable phone in a really loud joint and still be heard by the person at the other end of the line. It's available now for $150 at www.theboom.com