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Sun 8 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Inspecting gadgets

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest executive gadgets, from the latest Apple mouse to the newest in business netbooks.

Inspecting gadgets
Inspecting gadgets
Inspecting gadgets

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest executive gadgets, from the latest Apple mouse to the newest in business netbooks.

Not so magic

Has there ever been a more successful company that's consistently proved itself unable to design a decent pointing instrument? Apple did after all, kick off the whole mass-produced graphic user interface (although Xerox might very well beg to differ) which everyone has since pilfered. Unfortunately, its mice have generally ranged from blatantly unusable to out-and-out injury-inducing.

Who can forget the ergonomic sacrilege that was the iMac mouse, a hockey-puck shaped abomination that was about easy to grip as a bar of wet soap? Users were regularly used to mice squirting out of their fingers like a piece of soap-on-a-rope.

Things didn't get much better with the fruit company's next endeavour, the Mighty Mouse. They got the shape right this time, but purely in the interests of not conforming to any sensible norms, decided to drop the widely-used scroll wheel in favour of a fiddly little nub. Ostensibly, this accomplished the same purpose, but in practice, was about as useful for scrolling a page as an ice scraper.

Roll on attempt number three then, the brand-spanking new Magic Mouse, which finally brings laser tracking and Bluetooth to the Mac world (or in other words, something that's been available to Windows users for ages). It also premieres a new low-profile shape that's not quite as bulbous as the previous mouse but still suits people of both hand orientations.

The big news however, is that this is the first mouse to support multitouch gestures such as the ones used on the iPhone. To whit, users can ‘brush' their fingers lightly along the mouse surface to scroll, instead doing anything so plebeian as moving a physical wheel. They can also swipe virtual pages or photos to move on to the next item.

It's all a good idea in theory, but we're waiting to see if it catches on. Mice are far from the biggest devices already, so it remains to be seen whether people can get used to stroking their mice instead of yanking them. Let us not forget that that touch products work gangbusters in the consumer space, but in the enterprise, execs have repeatedly confirmed their preference for tactile feedback.

The Magic Mouse is probably Apple's best mouse yet, but unless Macs stage an enterprise takeover, we can't see many regional CIOs throwing out their mice en masse. Light on size, but not on features

We wonder if Apple had any idea of the size of the monster it was unleashing on an unsuspecting public when it took the wraps off the iPhone back in 2007. Today, every mobile manufacturer is planning to incorporate touch technology into their devices, and it's nigh-on impossible to find a new device that doesn't feature it in some fashion.

The latest entrant is Samsung's catchily-titled S5230, also known as the Star or the Tocco Lite depending on which country you live in. It's a fairly budget-minded touch phone, seeing as how it does without GPS, Wi-Fi or 3G for the most part.

What it does have is all the bells and whistles of the Korean giant's TouchWiz interface, which runs on top of Windows Mobile. Its party piece is the level of customisation you can achieve, adding widgets onto the home menu for a range of popular apps, most of which are to do with social networking, unfortunately.

One unfortunate wrinkle is that the phone features resistive input, as opposed to the capacitive screens that iPhone users enjoy. This might not be an issue to most people, but anyone expecting the iPhone's buttery-smooth interface experience will come away disappointed.

Nevertheless, for the price Samsung is asking for it, this is a reasonable introduction to the touch phone experience, and a handsome handset to boot. Putting the ‘X' in enterprise

Another month, another netbook. That's been the refrain for some time now, and it shows no signs of stopping with the continuing growth of these devices in both the enterprise and consumer markets. In fact, the continued uptake has put pressure on the prices of traditional notebook devices, which have become markedly cheaper as a result.

Sony's rather more well known for its consumer line of Vaio devices, but with the new X model, the company's trying to build a netbook for the busy business traveller who's gotten tired of lugging a 13" or 15" notebook and its assorted paraphernalia. The Vaio X is the skinniest of the lot so far, weighing just 1.6 pounds and half an inch thick - if thick is the right word that can be used to describe it.

Sony claims that the Vaio X can deliver more than eight hours of continuous runtime, which should be plenty for the average intercontinental flight, odd report and occasional corporate video. It's helped immensely by the presence of the onboard solid state drive (SSD) which uses far less electricity than the average hard disk while being considerably robust in the event of a fall or mugging.

The usual bevy of ports - SD, Memory Stick, USB and so on - are all present and accounted for. What's unusual here is the presence of an old-school VGA port, which seems a tad out of touch in the current HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort obsessed market. We imagine though, that there must be someone out there that has got an old projector lacking in connections and is just desperately searching for something to give it a video signal.

Nevertheless, we stand by our original assessment on this and other netbooks. We think that end-users, while initially impressed by the light weight and good portability, will quickly tire of the small screens and cramped keyboards which are no match for even the most gently-specced ultra-portable notebook.

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