Kyocera Finecam SL300R

For all their advantages over film, digital cameras still can’t match 35mm SLRs in one key area: speed. Nearly every digital camera has some degree of shutter lag, the annoying and often excruciating pause after you press the shutter button and before the camera actually snaps the picture. In some cases this can be as long as a few seconds, which is more than enough time to lose the perfect shot — particularly if your subjects are athletes, race cars, or small children.

Fortunately, digital camera makers feel your pain. Kyocera is one of the first to come to the rescue with a consumer camera that cuts the lag down to size. The Finecam SL300R snaps pictures within half a second after pressing the shutter button; in many cases it’s much faster (around a tenth of a second). The lag is still perceptible, but it’s getting much, much shorter. The camera also turns on quickly, taking just about a second and a half to power up.

For action photography, the Finecam excels. In rapid-fire mode it can shoot full-resolution images at a rate of 3.5 shots per second, without pause, until the SD card fills up. (Many other cameras need to stop and think after six or seven shots.) It’s also got the ability to record VGA-quality video, with audio, at 30 frames per second.

Image quality is excellent: The Finecam takes big, saturated pictures, and in automatic-exposure mode it adapts well to a variety of lighting conditions. The flash is powerful, and if you’re less than 5 feet away from your subject and shooting in standard mode, the flash will tend to wash out faces, overexposing them slightly. Switching to portrait mode easily fixes this problem. Still, we’d rather have a flash that’s slightly too bright than one that’s too dim. A 3x optical zoom falls short of telephoto capabilities but lets you frame and compose images without losing image quality, as you would with digital zoom.

There are also plenty of settings you can adjust manually, including exposure, white balance, and sharpness.

Transferring photos to a PC is reasonably fast over the included USB 1.1 cable. We were able to upload 30 full-size pictures totaling 26.7MB in 49 seconds, for a transfer rate of about 4.4Mbps.

The Finecam fits easily in a shirt pocket and, at just 5 ounces, its weight doesn’t feel like it’s tearing your shirt off. The plastic-and-metal casing is attractive, with a subtle concentric-circle-brushed design on the aluminum faceplate. The oddest feature of the Finecam is the split-body design — its left half, housing the lens and flash, twists forward or backward so that it’s perpendicular to the plane of the LCD when shooting a picture. Although this offers a minor convenience (being able to point the lens at yourself while looking at the LCD), this design also adds a second or so to the process of taking the camera out, turning it on, and getting it ready to shoot. Also, the clear plastic cover over the lens easily smudges with fingerprints during this process. (There’s no other lens cover, and this clear filter is not removable.)

The controls are easy to use and responsive, and the Finecam’s menu system is straightforward. You could take great pictures for weeks without once getting into the menus, though, and that’s a testament to this camera’s usability and the quality of its preset modes. Add that to the Finecam’s zippy performance, and you’ve got a camera that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Snaps pictures in less than half a second
Worst Feature: Awkward split-body design leads to lens smudges

SPECS:
Kyocera Finecam SL300R
$399
Weight: 5 ounces
Size: 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches
Specs: 3.2 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 1.5-inch LCD; VGA AVI; integrated flash; SD card slot (16MB card included); USB 1.1
www.kyocera.com

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Kyocera Finecam SL300R

PalmOne Tungsten W

True information addicts will never be satisfied with the puny screens on most smart phones. Even at high resolution, a 2-inch display just won’t cut it for reading news, checking stock charts, or powering through an overflowing inbox. If you’re a data maven, PalmOne’s Tungsten W is an attractive option — provided you don’t plan to use it as your primary phone.

That’s because the Tungsten W is not so much a smart phone as it is a PDA with phone features tacked on. The integration is less seamless in the Tungsten W (now more than a year old) than it is in more recent PDA-phones, such as the Treo 600, and it makes the overall experience of using the W less than satisfying.

At heart, the Tungsten W is a Palm PDA from the last generation. An underpowered 33MHz Motorola Dragonball processor gives the W anemic performance results in our PalmGauge test. On the other hand, its battery packs a whopping six and a half hours of talk time, which will give you plenty of time to gab. In ordinary use, we found it lasted several days to as long as a week between recharges. The W comes with a standard Palm cradle. Like other recent Palms, it’s not especially easy to plug the Tungsten W into the cradle: You have to jiggle and squeeze it down onto the connector instead of just slipping the device into the cradle as with Palms of old.

There’s no microphone or speaker built into the Tungsten W, so you must use the included headset. Conveniently, the PDA turns on and brings up the “Mobile” display whenever you plug the headset in, so you can dial immediately. The headset also includes a small button that cycles the Tungsten W through the three modes of the Mobile display: one showing the current call, one showing a dial pad, and a third showing your call history. Sound quality over the AT&T Wireless network was adequate, although a little tinny. There are no buttons on the unit itself to control basic phone operations, so if you navigate away from the call status screen during a conversation, you’ll need to press two or three buttons in a row just to hang up.

As a data device, the Tungsten W fares a bit better. Browsing the Internet via GPRS is easy, and the screen is roomy enough to render most webpages in a compact but readable form, complete with miniaturized images and usable forms. The W also includes a WAP browser for visiting mobile-phone-optimized sites, an SMS application that lets you send and browse text messages over AT&T Wireless’s network much as you would e-mail messages, and e-mail capabilities through the Palm-standard VersaMail. There’s even an ICQ client, so you can chat in real time with your Net buddies anywhere you can pick up a GPRS signal.

Ultimately, the Tungsten W is less elegant and harder to use than more modern smart phones. Its size and dependence on the corded headset mean it’s an awkward substitute for a cell phone. But its large screen and GPRS connectivity make the W a good handheld information device. And if you plan to use its phone only occasionally, it’s an acceptable way to put the Internet in your coat pocket. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Large screen for Web browsing via GPRS Worst Feature: Requires external wired headset to use the phone

SPECS:
PalmOne Tungsten W
$419
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Size: 5.4 x 3 x 0.6 inches
Specs: 900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS; 320 x 320-pixel TFT; 33MHz Motorola Dragonball processor; 16MB of RAM (15MB available); IR; hands-free headset (required); Palm OS 4.1
www.palmone.com; www.attwireless.com

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PalmOne Tungsten W

Franklin MDM Audio Translator

Sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams envisioned the ultimate interpreter: the Babel fish, a bright yellow, leechlike creature that, once inserted into your ear, would provide you with instant translations from any tongue. Franklin’s Audio Translator, copublished in SD-card format by MDM, is less unpleasant to use than squeezing a fish into your ear, but unfortunately it is far less effective. In fact, it may work better as an international icebreaker than a functional speaking interpreter.

You can’t blame the folks at Franklin and MDM for trying, though. In fact they’ve packed a respectable amount of linguistic information into a card only slightly bigger than a quarter. At the heart of the Audio Translator is a five-way dictionary of words and phrases, capable of giving you instantaneous translations between English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Want to know the German for bonjour or the Italian for have a nice day? No problema, as the Spanish say. You can search an alphabetical list of words and phrases, or browse phrases in a variety of traveler-friendly categories such as Emergencies, Hotel, and Dining.

While it’s not as comprehensive as a full dictionary, Audio Translator has a reasonably useful selection of general-purpose phrases for hapless tourists. (Its total of 40,000 words and 5,000 phrases means there are roughly 8,000 words and 1,000 phrases in each language — quite small compared with a real dictionary.) For business purposes, it is less practical: If you are using a PDA translator to ask someone, “Does this product meet the necessary standards?” then language is the least of your problems.

Where Audio Translator really stops making sense, however, is in attempting to speak these words and phrases out loud. The program’s rapid-fire text-to-speech synthesizer, especially when piped through the tiny speakers of a handheld, produces results that are risible at best and completely unintelligible at worst. If you already know the language in question, these tinny vocalizations might be a helpful reminder — but don’t plan on holding your Palm up to a Ligurian peasant’s ear in hopes of getting directions. You’d be far better off holding your questions until you find someone who speaks English. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Five-way dictionary of travel-related words and phrases
Worst Feature: Barely intelligible text-to-speech synthesizer

SPECS:
Franklin MDM Audio Translator
$50
Specs: Translation between English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; dictionary of 40,000 words and 5,000 phrases total
System requirements: Palm OS 5.x with 5MB of free memory; Windows Mobile with 5.5MB of free memory; Nokia phones with 500KB of free memory
www.franklin.com

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Link: Franklin MDM Audio Translator

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Franklin MDM Audio Translator

Corsoft Aileron

You wouldn’t put Wal-Mart tires on your Ferrari, so why are you using substandard software on your high-end PDA? Yet that’s just what many people are doing by using the default e-mail client that comes bundled with their PDA. Corsoft offers a simple and elegant solution with Aileron, a sleek e-mail client that will have you speeding through your inbox like a roadster on a curvy country byway.

Aileron’s chief advantage over other mail clients is its preview pane, which lets you open each message in turn to get a sense of its contents. You can resize the pane, too, by dragging the bar separating it from the list of messages — just as you would on a desktop mail client. If you need to do more, just hold the stylus on a message until the context menu pops up. From there, you can open the message, reply to it, flag it for follow-up, or delete it..

Aileron works with any standard POP3 or IMAP e-mail server; it can also download e-mail from Exchange or Notes servers, using additional server-side software. It supports attachments with ease, integrating well with Documents To Go or other viewer applications to display the files. On Treos, Aileron can also be configured to “push” messages to your device via SMS as they arrive, BlackBerry-style.

By default, Aileron downloads only the most recent five messages from your server, but it can be configured to download as many as 25 at a time. If you want more, just tell it to retrieve another batch. You can also set it to download messages based on their date, subject lines, sender, or size. Aileron does not support formatting in e-mail messages.

Aileron is simple and easy, and its superiority over other mail clients earns it our Mobile Choice rating. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Preview pane for quick message review
Worst Feature: Downloads only five messages at a time by default

SPECS:
Corsoft Aileron
$50
Specs: Supports POP3 and IMAP e-mail, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange (additional Corsoft server software required), attachments
System requirements: Palm OS 3.5 or higher; 380KB of free memory
www.corsoft.com

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Corsoft Aileron

MDM Secure File PDA Backup

If it weren’t for syncing, most people would never back up anything. It’s only because synchronization is so easy that we wind up with backups of our most important data: our address books and calendars. But syncing doesn’t always back up everything (particularly files you’ve stored on your handheld, and sometimes additional applications you’ve loaded) — and your backups are only as good as your most recent synchronization.

MDM’s Secure File PDA Backup, which comes on a 64MB MultiMediaCard, makes backup a truly one-click process for almost any handheld. You first stick the card into the MMC or SD card slot on your PDA. On Palms, the backup application instantly pops up, and you just click the Backup button to copy everything onto the card. On Pocket PCs, you need to launch the Sprite Backup application; from there, all you have to do is press the Backup button. Once the backup completes, pop out the card and put it in a safe place.

If you’re security conscious, you can encrypt the backed-up data and require a password to restore it or opt to compress it to save space. If you want to back up only certain data, two additional tabs let you select which applications and files to include in the archive.

In our tests, Secure File PDA Backup copied 16.2MB of data from our Palm Tungsten T3 in two minutes and 15 seconds without encryption or compression; adding encryption and compression lengthened the backup time to a little over six minutes.

If you sync your PDA daily and ensure that your important files are included in the daily sync, you’ll never need Secure File PDA Backup. But if you’re on the road and won’t have a chance to sync for a week or more — or if you’re one of those people who almost never syncs — PDA Backup is a dead-easy way to make sure you don’t lose your data. Just try not to lose that tiny MMC card. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: One-click backup and restore
Worst Feature: Backup is redundant if you sync regularly

SPECS:
MDM Secure File PDA Backup
$50
Specs: 64MB of MMC storage (60MB available for backups); one-click backup; supports compression and encryption System requirements: Palm OS device with 350KB of free memory or Windows Mobile device with 4MB of free memory; SD/MMC expansion slot
www.mdm.com

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MDM Secure File PDA Backup

Chen Style Taijiquan.

cover of book by Mark ChenMy Taijiquan teacher, Mark Chen, has written a book: Old Frame Chen Family Taijiquan. It’s a terrific introduction to the principles, techniques, philosophy, and history of Taijiquan (aka Tai Chi Chuan). It is also the best-written martial arts book I’ve ever read. Mark’s approach is very concrete, practical, and rational; there’s none of the mumbo-jumbo and fuzzy thinking that clouds other Taiji texts. Instead, he presents a clear-eyed, helpful, and sympathetic overview of Chen style Taijiquan–perhaps the most martial, and certainly the most dynamic, version of Taijiquan. I definitely recommend it.

(Note: This is not the book’s actual cover … but it’s what Amazon has, so I’m using it for now.)

Chen Style Taijiquan.

Mr. Grumbles.

There’s this guy on my block who is always walking around, grumbling and growling and laughing to himself. He’s tall, his hair is wild, and he walks around with his eyes cast down, mostly, sometimes pulling on a cigarette as he grumbles along. He’s such a permanent fixture of the neighborhood that I’ve long since stopped worrying about him, even though I’ve never heard an intelligible word out of his mouth–and he’s never responded to a single hello. So this morning as I was switching the car seats around, he walks by on the sidewalk behind me. Suddenly he stopped, mid-growl, and said, clear as the morning sun, “Say, do you have the time?”

Scared the bejeezus out of me.

Mr. Grumbles.

No joke.

Note to Google: Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to launch Gmail on April 1.

Note to Slashdot, BoingBoing, Engadget, and nearly every other tech blog: Running fake stories for April Fool’s Day might seem funny to you, but none of these stories were actually all that funny. Worse, they had the unfortunate side effect of making every single thing you posted that day, including Gmail announcements, completely suspect.

Sheesh. And bloggers wonder why journalists are still in business.

UPDATE April 4: Engadget didn’t run any bogus stories, other than linking to that left-handed phone thing, and they’ve corrected that. Apologies to Peter Rojas for lumping him in with the rest of the blogetariat.

No joke.