The Five Funkiest New Gadgets

By JEREMY CAPLAN/LAS VEGAS

Emtrace shows off its Widget Station, an all-in-one desk clock that can show live weather and traffic reports, during the Consumer Electronics Show sneak peek. Eighty companies unveiled their latest products for the media before the start of the 2007 CES show that began on Monday.

In 1970 it was the VCR. It 1981, CD players debuted. Satellite radio was the story in 2000. So what are the coolest new tech toys bowing in at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show CES, this week’s digital smorgasbord? Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting novelty gizmos.

Widget Station

This portable gadget runs little Web applications so you can access Internet information quickly and easily without your computer. Widgets update you visually on the weather, traffic or stock market, or you can use them to showcase your Flickr photos bedside, or to check out just about any other bit of Web content that interests you, even an eBay auction. This simply designed, elegant little device stands alone and can travel with you. After winning an innovation award at CES this week, Emtrace will release it in the U.S. this spring, though the price has yet to be announced.

Piano Wizard

While many of the top tech players at CES are headlining their copycat i-Pod accessories, few have new tools that encourage music-making. One of the most creative and refreshing new applications at this year’s show, therefore, is a digital piano-learning game that encourages kids (and musically curious adults) to toy around with a piano keyboard. “From Bach to Bon Jovi, your child will be playing in minutes,” the company’s tag line promises. And despite the product’s crude, toddler-friendly design, the program actually works well to introduce the basic concept of piano fingering without forcing novices to master the complex concept of classical music notation.

Car MD

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could diagnose your car’s ills without handing over the keys to a shady auto mechanic? Car MD’s handy new $90 gadget is designed to measure the health of any car made in 1996 or later. The little device plugs into a port below your car’s dashboard and presents a red, yellow or green light to let you know if there’s something wrong with the vehicle’s electronics. It won’t tell you if your tire pressure is low or give you a detailed breakdown on all of the car’s systems. But it will give you a quick sense of what the problem is likely to be, if there is one, and even estimate how much it should cost for an appropriate fix job.

Tap Type Faster

Text messaging on many phones is tricky, time-consuming and tiring. Most phone keypads were not designed for texting, so most mobiles look to software solutions (like T9, which guesses what word you’re typing) to make messaging easier. But Digit Wireless’s Fastap solution takes a new tact. The company engineered a new type of keyboard that includes letters cleverly positioned to make it easy to type out words. It’s available now for the first time in the U.S., on an LG phone, and as texting gains in popularity, the new keyboard design will likely show up on a growing number of phones.

Wireless Speakers

Speaker wires are up there with cockroaches in the ranks of annoying household nuisances. So music lovers listened closely when tech firm Avega announced a new technology that allows for wireless speakers. The Australian company says a major speaker manufacturer will soon ship wireless speakers that consumers will be able to set up around the house, connected through the Internet to their music source. No word yet on pricing, but getting rid of those stringy wires in your living room might just be priceless.

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