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The new, the cool and the expensive at CES

With the electronics industry’s yearly marathon officially underway, MSNBC's Gary Krakow takes a first look at some nifty devices.
This little device could drastically reduce your long distance bill. The Chatter Bug plugs into your regular phone line — no high-speed Net connection required.
This little device could drastically reduce your long distance bill. The Chatter Bug plugs into your regular phone line — no high-speed Net connection required.Lagunawave
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The electronics industry’s yearly marathon is officially under way — the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, a monstrous gathering of industry types, tech experts and all of the press to tell you about it.

With more than 100,000 attendees and probably just as many support people, traffic on the Las Vegas Boulevard is officially at a complete standstill until the show ends Sunday.

There are hundreds of exhibitors at the show hawking everything from computers large and small, everything that goes with computers, cell phones and all the things that plug into or attach to them, as well as anything that has to do with home entertainment — from HDTVs and next-generation DVDs to hi-fi and home theater.  Basically, if it’s new and plugs in it’s here.

Late Wednesday, at a giant press-only preview event called Digital Life, there were a number of new items being displayed that look like winners.

The item that really knocked me out is small, unassuming and relatively inexpensive. It’s called the Chatter Bug and comes from a new company named LagunaWave. Chatter Bug is a device that installs in your home phone line: You plug one end of it into a touch-tone phone and then plug your standard phone cord into the Chatter Bug.

Once finished, the Chatter Bug routes all your long distance calls through Chatter Bug’s long distance service. I won’t go into a long explanation and confuse the issue by telling you that they use VoIP technology. But I will tell you that you don’t need a high-speed Internet connection — all this takes place via your regular telephone line.

And the little device could drastically reduce your long distance phone bill. Unlimited long distance calls in the U.S. and Canada made with the Chatter Bug in place will cost you only $9.95 a month. The Chatter Bug itself will sell for $19.99. I can’t wait to try one and let you know how well it works.

New notebooks

The Lenovo/ThinkPad people were there proudly introducing their new very, very portable notebook computer line. 

The new X60s are compact and small (perfect to carry everywhere) and lightweight (around 2.7 pounds). They sport new, faster, dual-core Intel processors and bunch of new features, including all sorts of wireless options (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth plus Verizon EV-DO and Cingular’s UMTS/HSDPA modems) plus as much as 3+ GB of addressable memory. 

The standard battery on the X60 offers up to 10 hours of use between charges — not bad in such a small package. Expect prices to start under $1,900.

Need a new cell phone?

There were lots of new cellular phones being displayed but one or two really caught my eye. SonyEricsson’s brand new W810 Walkman handset is one of them. It’s a combination quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE world phone with a terrific music player, FM radio and 2.0 mega pixel camera. It comes in black or white. Pricing and carrier information are yet to be set.

Motorola was displaying its second-generation ROKR phone, the E2. This one doesn’t have a limited-storage iTunes feature inside, but does have a MP3 music player which handles AAC, MP3, WAV files and more.  Expect availability by summer.

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There’s also a new Linux and Java-based handset. The new A910 sports a 1.3 mega pixel camera and lets you ActiveSync with your PC and connect via Bluetooth, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi or mini-USB port. Prices and availability to be announced later this year.

And the GPS experts at Garmin were proudly displaying their new Nuvi 350 unit. This amazingly small handheld device features not only automatic routing, turn-by-turn voice directions and touch-screen controls, but there's also an MP3 player, photo viewer, world travel clock and optional plug-in language guides and European road maps.

The unit is amazingly compact and feature packed. Expect to pay for your thrills though. Retail price should start just under $1,000. Plug-in modules, of course, will be extra.

I’ll be searching for more new goodies for my next dispatch.