From phones that play video games to hard drives you can wear, many of this season's new gizmos are, frankly, overhyped. But we found three that represent real innovations and make roaming the world easier in unforeseen ways.
TIGHT SYSTEMS TAZ I
Let's face it: laptops aren't ideal for entertaining yourself on the road. Lug it around on vacation?A hassle. Hand it over to the kids to watch a movie?No way. Wedge it into place on a seat-back tray table?Good luck. Enter the Taz I, a compact portable video player (PVP) with crystal-clear sound and a sharp four-inch screen. Although there are a number of PVP's on the market, only the 1.5-pound Taz has a removable 60-gigabyte hard drive; just connect it to your computer via a USB cable and download away—one drive can hold up to 150 CD's, 20 hours of pre-recorded television, and20 feature films at the same time. The Taz also comes with software that helps you digitally record TV programs on your computer. Travel perks: it connects to your car's in-dash entertainment system and can play nine hours of video on a single charge. What's more, it's HDTV-compatible, a virtue that may seem unnecessary now but will prove invaluable as TV networks roll out high-definition streams. 877/835-7787; www.tightsystems.com ; at press time, estimated price less than $1,000.
FREECOM TECHNOLOGIES USB CARD
Sometimes a gadget comes along that's so uncommonly useful, we can't imagine traveling without it. Our latest must-have: Freecom's USB card, a portable flash memory drive the size of a credit card and only twice the thickness. It can hold up to one gigabyte of data (that's all of your spreadsheets and presentations, plus movies and music), and it doesn't require software to work; you simply plug the petite, hide-away USB 2.0 cable into your computer. The card is compatible with both PC's and Macs, runs without batteries or AC power (it steals juice from the machine it's connected to), and comes with secure password protection and a Web-based lost-and-found service. So even if you lose the card, you just might get it returned to you, all your data safe and sound. 510/548-4849; www.freecom.com ; at press time, estimated price of 1 GB model $400 (128, 256, and 512 MB versions also available).
PANASONIC D-SNAP SV-AV50 MULTI AV DEVICE
Choosing a digital camera or camcorder isn't easy, especially with so many hybrid models out there that combine features of both but often sacrifice quality in one medium for excellence in another. Now Panasonic's new D-snap takes the concept one step further. Here's what it is: Atwo-megapixel still-shot digital camera (two-megapixel images are just clear enough to enlarge and frame). A digital video camera that captures MPEG4-quality video (the same as TV broadcasts). A digital audio player. A voice recorder. And a video player with a two-inch foldout screen. Plus, it's thinner and lighter than other super-models—weighing just over four ounces—and comes with a removable SecureDigital memory card, so you can upgrade its storage capacity and move media from one device to another. The D-snap's most seductive virtues, however, lie in usability. The device's flip-and-twist body allows 180-degree rotation, and it can be held vertically or horizontally. It connects easily to your TV or VCR via the charging cradle (yes, it can also store and play back your favorite programs). Best of all, it costs about as much as most gadgets devoted to only one function. 800/211-7262; www.panasonic.com ; $400.Photographed by Doug Rosa