Nifty hardware devices for added convenience

HERE ARE THREE handy hardware devices that can ease your way through the day in the office and on the go. Portable snapshot printer Kodak EasyShare photo printer 500 (Kodak, www.kodak.com/go/easyshare) is a compact portable snapshot printer that prints on Kodak paper from almost any digital camera without requiring docking of the camera or the intervention of any computer. It has user-friendly convenience

HERE ARE THREE handy hardware devices that can ease your way through the day in the office and on the go.

Portable snapshot printer
Kodak EasyShare photo printer 500 (Kodak, www.kodak.com/go/easyshare) is a compact portable snapshot printer that prints on Kodak paper from almost any digital camera without requiring docking of the camera or the intervention of any computer. It has user-friendly convenience features that make it a good alternative to a full-size inkjet printer, especially for contractors who can benefit from printing job-site pictures right in the trailer.

The snapshot printer takes images directly from most memory cards in its 8-in-1 card reader or from a USB flash drive as well as directly from a Pict-Bridge-enabled digital camera. (Pict-Bridge is industry standard software preloaded into many digital cameras and printers that enables communication between devices without computer intervention.) The unit also has embedded Bluetooth wireless technology that facilitates printing from mobile phones and PDAs without cables or additional accessories. At 13.1-in.-by-3.1 in.-by-7.3-in. and weighing about 2.5 lb., it is small enough to sit in the corner of a crowded desk and light enough to tote from project to project.

The printer sports a bright 3.5-in. diagonal LCD screen, which is plenty ample for viewing details on most parts and installations, especially if you take advantage of the ability to zoom and crop any image before printing. If you are cropping a high-resolution image, it will still look clear in a 4-by-6 print.

Kodak EasyShare prints using continuous tone thermal dye transfer on precut paper in four print sizes, up to 4-by-6 in any of four color modes (natural, enhanced, sepia, and black and white). The pictures reproduce in rich colors and show crisp details.

For economy of paper and ink, it is possible to print up to two, four or nine different pictures on the same sheet. A typical 4-by-6 print takes about 77 seconds. The photos, which feature Kodak Xtralife lamination, are waterproof and stain-resistant.

The cost per print is about 29 cents per full-size picture if you buy the 160-count paper-and-ink refill packs. (The printer ships with a Kodak color ribbon cartridge and 10-sheet photo paper sample pack.) While it may be cheaper to print photos at the local drugstore, you can't beat the convenience of this type of unit for on-the-spot snapshots.

External hard drive
The Seagate 160 GB Portable External Hard Drive (Seagate Technology, www.seagate.com) offers a convenient way to accomplish two goals — add substantial disk space to a laptop or desktop and provide an easy, compact way to transport and access large files (such as a set of CAD drawings) between computers.

The device, which has the dimensions of about two side-by-side decks of cards, weighs less than 1 lb. and could easily fit into a jacket pocket, can hold thousands of business files, 51,200 digital pictures or the equivalent of 40 two-hour DVD movies.

The hard drive, which works with Windows or Mac computers, takes its power through the USB 2 port on a laptop or desktop, eliminating any need for a power pack. The unit comes with a USB 2 (Y) cable, which provides a second USB plug to accommodate under-powered computers.

The unit ships with a CD that contains drivers and BounceBack Express backup software. We test drove the drive on a computer running Windows XP, which recognized the drive immediately with no need to install the drivers on the accompanying disk. As portable external hard drives go, this one spins a very fast 5,400 RPM and transfers files and photos very quickly. The drive ran so quietly that the flickering blue light on the front was the only indication that files were transferring. The smart-looking chrome-plated aluminum enclosure absorbs shocks, so the device travels well.

Seagate offers the external hard drive in several capacities, from 40 GB up. As with iPods, camera memory cards and other similar storage devices, buying the largest capacity (currently 160 GB) gives breathing room for at least the long short term at relatively little difference in price.

Ergonomic vertical mouse
Zero Tension Mouse (www.zerotensionmouse.com, 866/660-3006) is an ultra-light computer mouse featuring a vertical rather than horizontal orientation. It is configured for grasping with a hand perpendicular (thumb up) to the desk rather than parallel to the desktop.

Designed by an orthopedist to relax all eight muscle groups that cause carpal tunnel syndrome and other overuse injuries, it theoretically offers the least resistance possible for the wrist/arm while using a mouse.

Looking like a chubby joystick on a broad base, the ZTM positions the thumb on top adjacent to the scroll wheel and the wrist in a neutral position between flexing and extending that eliminates the tightening that occurs when maintaining position with a traditional mouse. The design allows the user to rest the arm and shoulder on the cradle for the hand, enabling relaxation of the shoulder and neck. The two buttons are perfectly positioned for effortless fingertip activation, which calls only for gentle squeezing rather than pressing down.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected]