Snazzy gadgets to hook Europeans

PARIS — Americans may be kings of the Internet-via-the-PC, but when it comes to wireless, Europeans hold the aces.

The “Old Continent” has been cruising on global system for mobile communications (GSM) digital mobile telephony for years and now it’s getting ready to usher in the much hyped third-generation networks — the first public trials on the Isle of Man and in Monaco kick off within weeks.

The stakes are big. Europe’s tech-savvy telcos have dug deep — some say too deep — in snapping up the 3G licenses. But that also means the push is on to get Europeans hooked to the world wireless Web through some very snazzy gadgets.

  • The Nokia 9210 Communicator:Known as a 2-1/2G unit (because it bridges the gap between today’s GSM and tomorrow’s 3G), this nifty phone from the Finns is ready for a presummer launch. Built to run popular Windows apps such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint on a color screen with a battery that should last a week or more, and boasting data speeds of up to 43.2 kilobytes per second for wireless application protocol (WAP) and Net browsing, this is the first of many general packet radio service (GPRS) “personal communicators” about to hit Europe. A step up from the Palms and a device that actually delivers on WAP’s broken promises, this sort of toy could give new life to the saturated cell phone market.

  • Cell phone camera from STMicroelectronics While current cell phones are all ear and mouth, their successors aim for the eyes. And this is where STMicroelectronics, a Franco-Italian semiconductor company, has found a big business opportunity in a tiny space. It’s come up with an integrated ceramic camera module that’s the size of a fingernail, ideal for next-generation handsets and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The unit works as either a digital still or video camera with a refresh rate of 15 images a second (under TV quality, but still incredible for something this size). STMicroelectronics won’t say who’s been knocking on their door, but expect to see this sub-micro-camera on European personal communicators real soon.

  • Philips 3G Bluetooth @communicator plus “sneak and sound” modules: The heart of Philip’s 3G consumer drive is the @communicator, a tiny wearable device sporting Bluetooth technology that lets devices talk to each other invisibly and provides Internet connectivity. When used with the sneak module, you can watch videos, take moving or still pictures and cruise the Web. With the sound unit attached, you can listen to Internet radio or other audio transmissions while on the move. The @ unit also features other nifty gizmos from the Dutch group, including a data pen and a voice-operated toy that lets kids engage in joint game play.

  • The Halo from Psion: Capt. Kirk’s communicator was a telephone box compared to this. The U.K.’s Psion has looked down the 3G road and seen the future lies in a techno necklace that does everything: it’s a hidden cell phone with throat mike, a collar camera, a PDA and a Web browser. And — best of all — there’s no screen! This concept device packs a projector that puts an image on any surface, even the palm of your hand. Input is by voice and a battery docking station also doubles up for stand-alone projection. No release date yet, but suddenly “Star Wars” doesn’t seem so far, far away anymore.

  • Screenfridge from Electrolux: The focus of many European homes is the kitchen — a point that Electrolux knows well. So while everybody is making mini hand devices, the Swedish group has stuck its wireless gadget in a fridge door. The Screenfridge takes its culinary duties seriously (suggesting recipes according to what’s on its shelves and ordering food automatically) but also acts as a video memo board for the family via its built-in camera and microphone. Of course, there’s broadband TV and Web browsing — and info from other networked kitchen devices can let an owner know if he left the faucets or the oven on with an alert to his or her cell phone.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more