The best and worst of Fall Comdex
November 19, 1999
November 19, 1999
by the PC World staff
LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- Suddenly the world's largest computer trade show isn't really about PCs anymore. Comdex 99 paid lip service to PCs, but wallowed in the Web, Internet appliances, wireless devices, music players, the Web, video games, digital cameras, other digital toys -- and, of course, the Web.
Stunned by this wave of fun and frivolity, our intrepid staffers nevertheless brought back the goods (not to mention a bunch of goodies). Read on for highlights among the Las Vegas lowlifes and midlife crises.
MOST PROMINENT PRODUCT, WHETHER OR NOT IT ACTUALLY EXISTS: The Internet appliance. Many well-known hardware vendors were showing identical notebooklike consoles that let users access the Web and do e-mail. Price? Not settled yet. Availability? Maybe next year. Available in stores? Umm, no -- you'll get it from your ISP or financial services company, in exchange for a long-term service contract. Bottom line: Don't hold your breath. --Dan Tynan
BEST NET APPLIANCES THAT DO EXIST: MP3 music players. They're here, they're small, they're cheap, and you want one. --Eric Bender
WEIRDEST DEVICE THAT MIGHT BE WORTH BUYING: Empeg's MP3 player for your car, which fits in the dashboard and holds 10,000 of your favorite songs. --Harry McCracken
BEST GIZMO: The voice-controlled wristwatch/cell phone/Web browser (hold your Dick Tracy jokes, please), manufactured by Samsung and shown by voice vendor Conversa. Unfortunately, the 1.5-ounce gadget won't be available until sometime next year, if ever. --D.T.
GOOFIEST GADGET: Conversa also showed a voice-enabled, Web-ready exercise bike. Now you can bark out commands and hyperlinks into a headset microphone as you pedal your way around the Net. Sweat while you surf! --D.T.
NEATEST THING TO CARRY AROUND AT COMDEX: Largan's 5-ounce, 24-bit digital camera stores 64 shots and costs $130. --Steve Bass
FUNKIEST-LOOKING PC: The PC can be as hip as the iMac, can't it? Well, Intel devoted an entire room to its "concept" boxes -- one-of-a-kind case designs wrapped around standard Wintel hardware. Some looked like spaceships, others like refrigerators. Our favorite was the so-called Ottoman PC. Named for the footrest (not the empire), this round, cloth-covered computer flips open to reveal an LCD and a keyboard. Unfortunately, the thing looks like a commode. --D.T.
WINNER, PCJR RESPECT-THE-CUSTOMER AWARD: Microsoft's Web Companion devices, running on a crippled form of Windows CE, offer home users less-than-minimal functionality. --C.C.
WINNER, YOU CAN'T BE TOO THIN COMPETITION: Sony's stealth black 15-inch SM-N50 analog LCD is super thin at a half-inch thick, but not super cheap at $1499. Sony took the guts out of the panel and put it into a small black box connected via cable. --Mick Lockey
DEAR SANTA, I'VE BEEN GOOD: Aqcess Technologies' Qbe looks like a 15-inch personal digital assistant but runs Windows 98, featuring built-in sound, modem, Webcam, and all the amenities you'd expect from a notebook PC. This 6-pound tablet is more expensive ($3400) than similarly configured notebooks, but you can't beat the ease of use, the stylus, and the ability to switch from landscape to portrait modes, so you can see more of your Web pages. --Yael Li-Ron
MOST INTERESTING TECHNOLOGY THAT DIDN'T GET MUCH PRESS: ID Photo. These tiny optical cartridges hold 730MB and are expected to sell for around $50 apiece. Developed by Sanyo, Hitachi, Maxell, and Olympus, drives that take the cartridges will be built into new digital cameras expected to arrive next year. --H.M.
PRODUCT RECEIVING BIGGEST YAWN: The conventional desktop PC. Away from Intel and AMD booths, you'd hardly know that the fastest PCs ever debuted this week. Okay, they arrived late due to Intel's debacle with the 820 chip set -- but suppose they gave a new generation of PCs and nobody came? --E.B.
MOST NOTICEABLY ABSENT PRODUCT: Microsoft's ClearType, the remarkably readable text for digitally driven LCD panels announced here a year ago. --S.B.
SIT DOWN AND TAKE NOTICE: The MicroSphere computer station is a fully adjustable, perfectly ergonomic, very comfortable work environment. It costs about $1400 and is an excellent choice for people with unlimited budgets or those who suffer from repetitive stress injuries or other posture-related maladies. --Y.L-R.
RIGHT PRODUCT, WRONG SHOW: Creative Energy's Sanity Saver. This device consists of two attachments, one on each side of your monitor, that contain columns of bubbling water that "transmit a subliminal message of relaxation." --E.B.
MOST BELATED REALIZATION ABOUT WINDOWS: "If these devices can't easily be relied upon, there's a super-huge issue," Microsoft president Steve Ballmer declared in yet another speech about the still-undelivered Windows 2000. --E.B.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND COMDEX ADS: "Scott McNealy doesn't want your money," declared a block-long banner outside the main convention hall. Of course he does. Giving away the StarOffice suite is just a way to sell Sun servers. --E.B.
WORST BOOTH ENTERTAINMENT: National Semiconductor, which promoted its chips with the "Device Girls" (faux Spice Girls, but just as grating) and a microprocessor puppet who heckled passers by. (Unanimous pick by PC World judges.) --H.M.
WORST BOOTH ENTERTAINMENT, HONORABLE MENTION: Olympus was sponsoring its own off-off-off Comdex show at its megabooth, complete with scantily clad women and Ricky Martin wannabes. As far as I could make out, the chorus to the song was: "Olympus ... you know what I mean ... it's a photographer's dream ... you know what I mean." It was worse than Cats. I'm smashing my camera when I get home. --Eileen Smith
MOST HUMILIATING COSTUME: Some unfortunate young women standing outside the convention center were dressed as human flies to promote Flyswat.com, a data retrieval tool. Sorry, ladies: No matter what your agent told you, this ain't show biz. --D.T.
BEST FREEBIE: Simple and useful is best. LG/Philips was giving out a zipper case that on the outside looks like a CD holder -- but when you open it, you discover it's a collapsible cloth shopping bag. --Michael Lasky
WEIRDEST HANDOUT: The Bill Gates comic book, a screed published by an anti-abortion group protesting Mr. Bill's support of Planned Parenthood. The woman who handed out the booklets was ignored by most conventioneers, who apparently mistook her for others on the same street corner who were passing out ads for "in-room entertainment." --D.T.
BEST SIGN THAT VAUDEVILLE ISN'T DEAD: The Net Zero dancers, a troupe of protogeeks in white lab coats and horn-rimmed glasses, who performed the "Keep on Truckin'" strut and other synchronized routines at various Vegas venues. --D.T.
BEST PARTY: Screening of the new James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, by Hewlett-Packard, whose products (Jornada handheld and OmniBook) had cameo roles. Coming soon: A Jornada stylus that converts to a poison dart. --Yardena Arar
OH, BEHAVE: The worst party was the cheesy Microsoft event at Studio 54, featuring a silly Austin Powers revue and really boring food. --Y.A.
LEAST-SUBTLE SALES PITCH: Fantasy Girls, a "full service in-room entertainment" firm in the Nevada tradition. The ladies camped out in an unused booth and handed out brochures. --E.B.
MOST ANNOYING PR GIMMICK: CD Stomper's shrill whistle. Attendees without mobile phones used the whistle to find their buddies. We hope that no one at Iomega (home of last year's infuriating clickers) noticed. --S.B.
WEIRDEST NEW HOTEL: The Venetian, where gondolas splashed through a shopping mall, under a painted sky. Real gondolas, but with little electric motors. And real gondoliers, plucked from the canals of the real Venice. Why do these guys come to Vegas? "American girls," said one. --E.B.
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