The $89 Microtech USB CameraMate is a good idea: a device that can read several types of media that hold digital pictures.
The CameraMate, in an oh-so-trendy translucent violet and black case, connects via USB cable to appropriately equipped Windows, iMac and Macintosh computers. It read our digital images stored on CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards; Microtech says IBM Microdrive CF II also is compatible.
The CameraMate worked well in tests on an eMachine with a Celeron processor, but a similar Cyrix-based eMachine couldn't see the drive. Microtech support suggested a $20 auxiliary power pack to get around this glitch.
For digital camera buffs who use several kinds of media and are comfortable with computers, the CameraMate is quick and drag-and-drop simple. It's a different story for novices, though, because printed documentation for the hardware is sparse. Owners are dependent on a manual on the CD-ROM, and information is not supplied for the bonus image-editing software: Ixla's Digital Camera Suite-SE and a trial version of Web Easy for Windows PCs, or PhotoFX's PhotoFolio for the Mac.
Still, if you know your way around a CD-ROM and are willing to tinker, the USB CameraMate is a useful and flexible tool.
_ KATE SEAGO
The WordWand Pro must be a researcher's best friend. Shaped like a bloated pen, the $199 handheld scanner lets the user bring text into any Windows application by sweeping the device over any single line, much like a highlighter.
The scanner can add a space at the end of a scanned line so that each line doesn't run into the next. A button on the Pro is user-definable, allowing it to perform keyboard functions such as backspace and tab. It defaults as a hard return.
The Pro is the only one of three handheld models from WordWand that includes an AC adapter. They all can run off AA batteries for use with a laptop, making them practical for entering passages from books at the library.
WordWand Pro is effortless to set up. You first connect the scanner to a serial port, then run the software installer on your Windows 95/98 or NT PC.
Next, launch the WordWand program and the Windows application of your choice. When you sweep the scanner over text (from right to left, so you can see what you are scanning), the editable text appears wherever the cursor is blinking.
WordWar Pro also comes with a microphone, allowing you to dictate numbers _ but not words _ directly into your applications.
Scanning accuracy improved considerably after I used the WordWand for about half an hour.
_ JIM ROSSMAN
Sharp MD-MT15 MiniDisc
The MiniDisc, a recordable, portable digital audio format that looks like a small computer floppy disk, has been struggling for acceptance in this country for seven years.
Now Sharp Electronics, whose MD-MT15 portable stereo records and plays MiniDiscs, is promoting a package that could help the format become more relevant in the Internet Age.
It's all about MP3, a format for compressing, storing and playing sound files. Sharp is bundling the MD-MT15 with Voquette's NetLink, a cable and software product that allows you to transfer MP3 files from a Windows PC to the handheld device.
If you want to create a library of portable digital music, the big advantage of using a MiniDisc system over an MP3-only player is price. Blank MiniDiscs cost only $2 or $3 each vs. $60 to $90 for the additional memory cards required for MP3 units.
The Sharp MD-MT15 and the Voquette NetLink sell separately for $199.95 and $69.99, respectively. Together, they cost about $249.
(www.sharp-usa.com or www.voquette.com)
_ ALAN GOLDSTEIN
Nick Click camera
Nick Click is strictly a kiddie camera, but for $69.99, it's a relatively inexpensive way to introduce your child to digital photography.
Kids can dress up their photos for projects with an image-editing feature and Nickelodeon-related clip art included in the software. Your young one is ready to begin once the software is loaded and the 9-volt battery is installed.
Turn on the purple plastic camera by pressing a button on the back. A red LED comes on when the camera is ready. Then look through the viewfinder, frame your picture and press the shutter release. A faint beep indicates a picture has been taken. After two minutes of inactivity, the Nick Click turns off.
Untethered, the camera holds six shots, which then need to be uploaded into a computer before shooting again. As many as 20 images in low resolution can be taken, however, if the camera is plugged into a PC's serial port. Image resolution, by the way, is not one of the camera's strong points: 160 pixels X 120 pixels or software-enhanced to 320 X 240.
Mattel Media and Nickelodeon recommended the camera for children 6 and older.
_ JEAN NASH JOHNSON