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Wireless rules tech expo

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The 20th annual gathering of computer manufacturers and computer users in New York — which used to be known as PC Expo and is now known as TechXNY — got underway Tuesday at the Javits Convention Center. If I had to sum it up in two words, I’d say this year’s theme is “wireless networking”.

InsertArt(1540904)EVERYWHERE YOU LOOKED there was some company or other showing off their branded 802.11b WiFi cards and access points — there were a bunch of the less popular 802.11a high-speed cards and boxes — and even some interesting twists for some proposed Bluetooth devices.

TechXNY is really a bunch of shows rolled into one. It consists of the old PC Expo plus DV (Digital Expo); Web Services, Java & XML Edge Events Exhibits Open and the TechXNY Career Expo Open. Combining a bunch of smaller shows into one event is actually a good idea. It makes the whole Javits Center look alive with showgoers, despite the PC Expo part being confined to something like one-quarter of one show floor.

Despite that, the lines were very long when they began letting people in just after 10 a.m. Some exhibits seemed to be packed within seconds. Show favorites like the Palm booth, the Microsoft phone lounge (where you could make free phone calls on new Pocket PC’s with built-in phone cards) were crowded — as was, of course, any booth where they were giving anything away for free. Biggest line I saw was at a free popcorn machine.

Let’s get to the good stuff:

Intel has one of the largest booths at the show and they were busy telling anyone who’d listen (and there were many who did) about their new line of Pentium 4 mobile processors. All you need to know is that the new processors top out at 2 GHz, which will make for some nice laptops and notebooks in the near future.

Wireless networking is king at this year’s event and the best two items I saw were both based on Bluetooth.

Toshiba is planning a wireless, Bluetooth portable server. Think of it as an iPod with a 5 GB hard drive and Bluetooth connectivity. The idea is to wirelessly have a hard drive that connects at home and at the office so you can take your information with you. Add a Bluetooth headphone and it might become a very cool MP3 device. Expect delivery this fall.

The other Bluetooth item that caught my eye is something called BlueGear. This tiny Bluetooth radio transmitter/receiver connects to your computer via a USB port and can clip onto the monitor screen of a laptop or desktop. It’s capable of speeds up to 1 Mbps and can handle eight computers at the same time. It seems like a clever way to share a high-speed Internet bandwidth through another computer. Range: up to 150 feet. Price: $129.

COOL NEW DIGITAL CAMERAS There were some interesting looking printers being discussed. Aside from H-P’s promise of 50 new printing and imaging products in the next year, Lexmark was showing off some of their models. The Z65 is capable of 4800 dpi, photo print resolution of 5.8 megapixels and an output of up to 21 pages per minute. The X75 PrintTrio all-in-one (print/scan/copy) machine replaces the old X73, while my personal favorite, the X83, remains in the Lexmark lineup.

Not much fun to have a high-resolution printer if there are no new digital cameras to talk about. First, let’s go to the sublime. Mention Leica and many photographers smile. Mention that Leica has a new digital camera and many people take notice. The Digilux 1 is basically a throwback in size and shape to a Leica era long gone. I’m trying to think of a nice way to say it is big, square and bulky looking. The camera itself is a product of Panasonic, with 4-megapixel resolution, but with one big difference: the glass. Leica’s 7-21 mm, f2-2.5 Vario-Summicron lens makes this a camera to try. I intend to do so as soon as I can. Price: $899.

Toshiba was showing off their PDR-T10 camera. It has very few buttons to confuse the user. Instead, it sports a touch screen LCD for nearly all functions. Sounds kinda crazy but it’s pretty neat in real life. Two megapixels resolution. Expect a full review shortly.

Finally, make way for the Casio Exilim. I can’t begin to tell you just how small this 1.34 megapixel camera is. Think credit card. Less than half an inch thick. And that includes an LCD screen on the back. There’s room for a SD/MMC storage card and it comes with a cradle charger for the built-in lithium-ion battery. Picture quality in the demo was pretty impressive. Actually there are two Exilim models. The camera-only EX-S1 will sell for $299.99 and the camera plus MP3 player/voice recorder will retail for $349.99.

OTHER NIFTY GADGETS There was one new PDA/cellular phone of note. The Kyocera 7135 Smartphone has a Palm OS organizer built-into a CDMA2000 1X cell phone and claims data transfer speeds of up to 153 kbps. The phone itself is a clam shell design, with the color screen on the top half and the Graffiti writing area plus phone keypad on the bottom. It looks like it takes two hands to operate; so far, Handspring Treo is the one-handed winner.

The nice people at Mediafour have just announced their XPlay software — which allows Apple iPods to be used with Windows OS computers. XPlay lets you use any MP3 player on your computer (Windows Media, Winamp, etc.) and gives you a terrific amount of control (such as tweaking songs and song titles) over what is passed on to your iPod and how the iPod will operate. All transfers are drag and drop. Download pricing from the Mediafour Web site is $29.99.

My favorite booth at the show has nothing to do with the super-fast, high-tech world of computers. On second thought, maybe it does. You see, this booth was staffed by two FBI special agents. Yes, there is actually a FBI recruiting booth. It sounds funny at first, but upon reflection, where better to find certified computer experts — and plenty of new technology which no one wants to see get into the “wrong” hands. There were a lot of people stopping and talking to the agents at the FBI booth.

So, overall a small show this year, but with a pretty good number of announcements being made — perhaps because Comdex last fall came so quickly after the 9/11 tragedy.

And while we’re on that subject, here’s a suggestion for the TechXNY people. They’ve set next year’s expo for Sept. 16-19, 2003. That’s only a few days after the 9/11 anniversary in New York. I’m not sure that will be a good idea. I know show dates have to be set way in advance, but this might be one date that they’d like to consider moving.