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Ricoh's new digital camera offers Internet access

PC World

(IDG) -- Convergence takes on a new meaning with the Ricoh RDC-i700, a 3.34-megapixel digital camera that lets you e-mail, fax, and browse the Web.

But does anyone really need all that?

Ricoh says the camera, announced Monday, is really for professionals and could be used as a mobile communications, workstation, and presentation device. But you'll have to wait a while to check one out. Available September 20 in Japan, the RDC-i700 won't hit U.S. retailers until about February, when it's expected to sell for about $1500.

A solid camera

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Underneath all the Web bells and whistles, the RDC-i700 is a feature-rich 3.34-megapixel camera. Weighing 19.9 ounces, or a little more than a pound, the video cassette-shaped camera resembles Ricoh's RDC-7 (see "New Ricoh camera for shutterbugs," link below). It has 3x optical zoom, a variety of modes from high resolution to still and video, and an onboard speaker and microphone for sound capture.

"The camera can even capture text and graphics as group 4, the small TIFF protocol used for faxing," says Jeff Lengyel, marketing manager for Ricoh digital camera products. "It removes anything that isn't black and white so that text is true black and anything that's not text is white."

Beyond its pixels and lenses, the new Ricoh camera has a flip-up 3.5-inch LCD touch screen where users can send and receive POP3 e-mail with the camera's proprietary software, browse the Web with the HTML browser, and send a fax.

"It even comes with a stylus for text input -- using a virtual keyboard on the screen -- and drawing," Lengyel says.

Slots like a laptop

The RDC-i700 will ship with only 16MB -- or possibly 32MB -- of onboard memory. But it has a PC Card slot and a type II Compact Flash card slot to hold removable media or modem and connector cards.

"For Internet connectivity, it supports LAN and WAN cards as well as wireless modem cards like the Ricochet modem," Lengyel says. "You can also use the slots to connect to the Web via your mobile phone."

Basically, the idea behind the camera is to be able to transmit photos right when you take them. With a wireless connection, you could conceivably send your pictures straight to a preconfigured FTP site without connecting to a PC, Lengyel says.

"Or you can e-mail a compressed version of the image as an attachment for quick viewing, but keep the high-resolution version on the camera," Lengyel adds.

The Ricoh RDC-i700 Virtual Assistant integrates templates for Microsoft Word and Excel inside the camera. You can automatically place and size images within documents or Web pages thanks to plug-in software that identifies the images.

You can then use the Web browser to view the finished document at its FTP site, Lengyel says.

While the RDC-i700 packs a whole lot of functionality inside a camera, it's difficult to say who would really use it. Beyond consumers who have little to no need to immediately fax or e-mail photos, few professionals require a communications hub inside their camera. And inputting text e-mails into a Palm is hard enough, much less on a cumbersome camera display.

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Ricoh Co.

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