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Gadgets galore at electronics show

LAS VEGAS -- They can plumb the Internet for the latest movie times, news headlines, stock figures and gas prices. They'll even help you skirt traffic, find a parking spot or make a phone call. Oh, and they'll navigate for you, too.

The latest global positioning system devices on display at this week's International Consumer Electronics Show are roving information portals, well beyond the first turn-by-turn GPS guides with maps and directions.

Now practically taken for granted, GPS technology is available for tracking hikers, boaters and pilots; and it's routine in cars, sports watches and cell phones.

Manufacturers hoping to continue commanding premium prices as the cost of plain van- illa portable navigation devices plunged to less than $200 are cramming as many extra features on the devices as possible. At CES, Garmin Ltd. announced the Nuvi 880, which debuts in the second quarter for $1,000, and the 780, out next month for $800.

Both get real-time information from Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Direct system, which requires a subscription of $50 per year or $130 for the life of the device. The more expensive model has speech-recognition so drivers can bark their commands.

The upcoming Dash Express GPS device will let users conduct Web searches for locations or products, movie times, or the cheapest gas, and then direct them to the destination.

The $600 gadget by Dash Navigation Inc., created in partnership with Yahoo Inc., also makes the ambitious promise that it can combine data from conventional traffic-monitoring systems with the power of user-based intelligence. The Dash Express will send its users' speed and location data over the Internet, allowing the company to calculate up-to-the-minute traffic conditions and suggest alternate routes. Monthly service fees starting at $10 will be required for the connected features.

Magellan Navigation Inc., which is partnering with Google Inc. to provide local business listings on a $1,300 car-navigation unit, expects eventually to let users send contacts and calendars to their devices. The systems automatically could route you to your 9 a.m. appointment or understand where to direct you when you say, "Tim Jones' home."

A few gadgets and services are gathering most of the attention at the CES this week, but many others are generating some buzz:

With just a few months to go before the launch of its next- generation wireless network, Sprint Nextel Corp. has a distinctly modest lineup of compatible devices.

Sprint showed only two computer modems at this week's show that definitely will be available in April, when its WiMax network becomes available outside current trials in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington.

One of the promises of WiMax, a service Sprint will be providing under the Xohm brand, is that receivers for it can be built into a variety of devices such as cameras and Web tablets that usually don't have a built-in Internet connection or rely on Wi-Fi, a short-range technology.

Unlike Wi-Fi, WiMax signals reach for miles, and unlike cellular broadband, it's designed from the ground up for data. That could make WiMax cheaper than current cellular broadband, or 3G, which often costs about $60 a month for laptops.

Beer lovers craving freshly poured draft brews at home soon will have a high-tech option -- the BeerTender, a beer storing-and-pouring product from brewer Heineken and appliance manufacturer Krups.

The device, which looks like a glossy black keg with an LCD display and is available in Europe, is meant to house a 5-liter Heineken keg and keep the beer tasting fresh for 30 days at a proper temperature. Users can read the contents' temperature on the display, which also indicates when the beer is running low.

San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma Inc. will begin offering the BeerTender March 1, and other stores nationwide will have it April 1, a spokeswoman said. The suggested retail price is $400.

The makers of the "Guitar Hero" video game have licensed their name to a $30 toy called Guitar Hero Air Rocker that combines a magnetic guitar pick and a belt buckle with a miniamplifier.

After the player chooses one of 10 included riffs, the toy captures the rhythm of the player moving the pick past magnetic coils in the buckle, without ever touching it, and broadcasts the riff.

Wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses, Toy Director Brandon Giraldez of Jada Toys in City of Industry drew cameras and large crowds with his emphatic air guitar playing at the ShowStoppers media event outside the CES.

The product will be available at major retailers in March. Expansion packs with more songs will be sold later, Giraldez said.

A new technology unveiled at the CES would show what's being said on the radio using a receiver with a screen that would scroll text much like closed captions roll by on TV.

No manufacturer has committed to bring the technology to market. It is backed by National Public Radio and Harris Corp., as well as a new research center at Towson University.

NPR and its partners displayed a prototype text radio in Las Vegas. Mike Starling, NPR's chief technology officer, said he hoped text-based broadcasts would become a new standard in radio, just as digital broadcasting -- known as HD Radio -- did several years ago.

HDTV manufacturers are trying to make the task of buying an HDTV set much more difficult than just choosing between LCD and plasma, 42 inches or 46 inches.

To stand out amid fierce competition, they're adding exotic features, and even a little bit of color to the plain black bezels that have been de rigueur. They're also chasing each other to zero -- zero thickness, that is.

All the major Asian brands revealed new sets at the electronics show, which started Monday. Most of the innovation comes from prestigious names such as Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic and Toshiba, which are trying to keep HDTVs from becoming a commodity product. If one 42-inch LCD is the same as another, the buyer is going to be looking mostly at price, and that kills the manufacturer's margins.

Once celebrated for cameras that made their own prints, Polaroid Corp. plans to update the concept this year by selling a portable printer for images on cell phones and digital cameras.

And like those old Polaroid instant-film cameras, the new printers should have a wow factor: They require no ink, because they employ thermal printing technology from startup Zink Imaging Inc.

The 8-ounce printers, a bit bigger than a deck of cards, are due to go on sale around back-to-school time for about $150, Polaroid and Zink announced.

Once connected to a phone or camera by Bluetooth wireless or the USB port, the printers need less than a minute to churn out 2-inch-by-3-inch pictures, which can be peeled off a backing and used as stickers. Sheets of paper for the device will cost about 40 cents each, less if bought in bulk.

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