Digital Gear: Gadgets for Kids
High-tech gadgets aren't just for grown-ups. There's plenty of gear available for youngsters, too. Hasbro's ChatNow resembles a cell phone, but it is a walkie-talkie remote-control system that can be used to talk, exchange text messages, or share pictures. Also from Hasbro is VCamNow, an all-in-one video camera, digital camera, and Webcam that you can use to create video CDs. VTech's Nitro Notebook teaches math, science, and Spanish. And while the Xbox 360 gaming console may be in short supply, its accessories are trickling into the market, including Microsoft's own Xbox 360 Controller game pad and Logitech's newest Harmony remote control.
VTech's Nitro Notebook
VTech's Nitro Notebook is a learning system that helps children develop math, science, and language abilities. Because it looks like a laptop, with a keyboard and mouse, it also familiarizes kids with computers. The system has 80 games, meant to improve kids' hand-eye coordination, creativity, language, and cognitive skills through the use of animation, music, sound effects, and art.
Though aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 11, the Nitro captured my imagination, too. It is available for as low as $39.
Hasbro's $89 VCamNow is a video camera that doubles as a digital camera and Webcam. It has a 1.5-inch flip-out LCD viewfinder through which youngsters can see what they are recording. VCamNow records 320-by-240-resolution video images at a speed of 10 frames per second. Full-motion video requires speed on the order of 30 frames per second, so don't expect fluid movement. The video camera connects to a PC via a Universal Serial Bus 2.0 port and comes with software for creating movie CDs. It can also connect to a TV.
The 1.3-megapixel digital camera comes with a 4X digital zoom. It has 32MB of memory, expandable via a Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card slot. VCamNow runs on two AA batteries and is small and light enough to fit into the hands of children age 8 and up, according to the company.
Another Hasbro product, ChatNow, is a walkie-talkie system that can be used to exchange voice calls, text messages, and photos within a 2-mile range. Resembling a cell phone, each ChatNow communicator handset comes with a preassigned, phone number-like, seven-digit buddy ID, listed on the phone. When a call is received, the handset rings and a small green light blinks. The phone's Buddy List feature is like a phone book, capable of storing additional information such as birthdays.
The handset can store up to 30 photos taken by the built-in digital camera, and has a black-and-white LCD screen for viewing pictures. For those who enjoy frills, this handset has 10 ring tones and six screen savers; it comes in multiple colors and styles. Each ChatNow handset costs $75, the company says, but because it's a walkie-talkie and not a real phone, there are no fees for airtime. The handset operates on four AAA batteries.
Control the Xbox 360
Although there is a wait to buy Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console, the company's new wired joystick, the Xbox 360 Wired Controller, is more readily available and also works with Windows XP PC games. Though the quality of Xbox 360 and PC games differs, the game pad is similar in pivot controls and button configurations, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. The cross-platform game pad eliminates the need to use separate joysticks on an Xbox 360 and a PC, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Microsoft competitor Logitech has launched the $129 Harmony for Xbox 360, a universal remote control for the console, TVs, videos, DVD players, cable boxes, and other media devices. The remote's X, Y, A, and B buttons can be used to navigate the menus of Xbox 360 games. Harmony supports an exhaustive list of media devices: It's the first remote I have found that supports CyberHome's CH-300 DVD player. It can also operate multiple devices by pressing one button.
Microsoft Xbox 360 System
Hasbro Chatnow Communication System
Hasbro VCamNow Digital Video Camera
VTech Nitro Notebook
Microsoft Xbox 360 Wired Controller
Logitech Harmony Advanced Universal Remote for Xbox 360