DIGITAL GEAR: Kid gear and Xbox accessories

High-tech gadgets aren't just for grownups. There is plenty of gear available for youngsters, too. Hasbro Inc.'s ChatNow resembles a cell phone, but it is a 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, from which movie CDs can be created. Vtech Inc.'s Nitro Notebook teaches math, science and Spanish. The Xbox 360 gaming console is in short supply, but its accessories are trickling into the market, including Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 Controller gamepad, and Logitech Inc.'s newest Harmony remote control.

Vtech's Nitro Notebook

Vtech Nitro Notebook is a learning system that helps children develop math, science and language abilities. Because it has a keyboard and mouse, it also familiarizes them with a computer. The system has 80 games, meant to improve their hand-eye coordination, creativity, language and cognitive skills. It uses animation, music, sound effects and art.

Though aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 11, it captured my imagination too. It is available for as low as US$39 at Target's online store.

Hasbro's VCamNow

Hasbro's VCamNow is a video camera that doubles as a digital camera and webcam. It has a 1.5-inch flip-out LCD (liquid crystal display) viewfinder from which youngsters can see what they record. It records video images at 320-by-240 resolution at 10 frames per second. The video camera connects to a PC via a USB (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 32M bytes of memory, with an SD/MMC (Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card) slot for extra storage. The $89 camera runs on two AA batteries and is small and light enough to fit into the hands of children aged 8 and up, according to the company.

ChatNow

Chatnow is a walkie-talkie system that can be used to exchange voice calls, text messages and photos within a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) range. Resembling a cell phone, each ChatNow communicator handset has a predetermined seven-digit buddy ID, like a phone number, 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, and stores additional information, including birthdays.

The phone stores up to 30 photos taken by the built-in digital camera, with a black-and-white LCD screen to view pictures. For those who enjoy frills, this phone has 10 ring tones, six screen savers and comes in multiple colors and styles. Each phone costs $75, with no fees, no minutes and no airtime charges, according to the company. The communicator operates on four AAA batteries.

ChatNow can be purchased here.

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 Controller for Windows, is more readily available and also works with Windows XP PC games. Though the quality of Xbox 360 and PC games differs, the gamepad is similar in pivot controls and button configurations, said a Microsoft spokesperson. The familiarity of a cross-platform gamepad eliminates the need to use separate joysticks on an Xbox 360 and a PC, the spokesperson said. The $40 gamepad is available at major U.S. retailers.

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. It supports an exhaustive list of media devices -- it is the first remote I found that supports CyberHome's CH-300 DVD player. It also operates multiple devices by pressing one button.

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