The scoop: FlipStart, by FlipStart Labs, about $2,000.
What it is: The FlipStart ultramobile PC is a two-pound device that offers a full version of Windows XP (or Vista Business). Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile broadband (carrier optional) allow for network connectivity; adding a docking adapter provides for Ethernet connectivity.
The clamshell device opens to reveal a display screen (1,024-by-600-pixel resolution) and a keypad. It runs on an Intel Ultra Low Voltage processor and has a 30GB hard drive for file storage. More details on the history of the FlipStart are available.
Why it's cool: Workers complaining about carrying around a larger notebook and a wireless e-mail device, such as a BlackBerry, can carry around the tiny FlipStart without the extra bulk. While the FlipStart's size probably would prevent you from putting it in a shirt pocket, it's small enough for a coat pocket. Full Windows XP application support means that the IT group doesn't have to "mobilize" critical applications for a different operating system.
Some caveats: The integrated wireless LAN antenna seemed to have less receiving power than a normal notebook. For example, in the same location where I had a very strong WLAN signal, I got a "low" reading from the FlipStart. Navigation with thumbs takes practice - moving the mouse via the nub was slower than I wanted it to be. After a while I just connected a USB mini-mouse. In addition, the docking adapter was a little loose when connected, making it more susceptible to breaking with heavy use.
Bottom line: This would have been outstanding if it had come onto the scene in 2004 or 2005; increased competition in the ultramobile PC space gives enterprises other options that may fit their needs better.
Grade: Four stars (out of five)
The scoop: LightSnake microphone-to-USB cable, by SoundTech, about $40.
What it is: This cable (model USBXLR10) lets you connect an XLR handheld microphone to your computer via the USB port. When connected, you can record digital audio into your PC. This can be useful for vocal recording or podcasting (as long as you already own the handheld microphone).
Why it's cool: Each end of the cable emits a cool, green glow that lets you know the cable is working. The system truly is plug-and-play - I was connected and recording audio files in no time. The LightSnake comes with several copies of 30-day-trial software from Sony, including Audio Forge, ACID and Vegas audio software, but it also will work with the free Audacity audio-creation software.
Some caveats: The cable won't supply phantom power to condenser microphones. If you don't already own an XLR microphone, buying a "podcast in a kit" that includes a USB microphone and software may be more economical.
Grade: Four stars