Gadget boom brings out shoppers in slow period

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 January, 1999, 12:00am

The first quarter is supposed to be the slow period for retail computer sales, but recent visits to computer malls have shown plenty of people out looking to spend the last of their Christmas cash.

This is hardly surprising, given that for those with money to spend there are some interesting new gadgets and quite a few bargains to be found.

I finally spotted the much-hyped Diamond Rio MP3 player from Diamond Multimedia.

This unassuming Walkman-sized box stores music as MPEG-compressed audio data files. It sparked controversy in the United States after the music industry attempted to have it banned, claiming it would encourage illegal copying.

However, the case foundered and distributors had hoped to have the Rio in stores in time for Christmas.

Unfortunately stocks did not make it in time and I finally found one - only one - on sale in Wanchai 298 Computer Zone for $1,880.

USB devices also are becoming more popular. Perhaps the most significant new USB-capable product is Iomega's Zip100 portable USB drive, which was spotted in Windsor House for $1,280.

Elsewhere, supercharged handheld PCs running Microsoft's latest version of its Windows CE operating system - the Handheld PC Professional Edition - are also starting to appear.

Also in Windsor House in Causeway Bay, I spotted Hewlett Packard's new Jornada and Sharp's PV-5000, both tidy little packages with keyboards.

The Jornada costs $7,880 while the PV-5000 was $7,200.

Or, if these top-of-the-line PDAs (personal digital assistants) are just not different enough, why not try out the CrossPad XP, also at Windsor House.

The CrossPad is a letter-sized portable digital notepad. You write on ordinary paper and then download pictures of your writing to your PC for permanent storage.

Made by pen-maker Cross, using IBM handwriting recognition software, the CrossPad costs $3,180.

Meanwhile, for those of you looking for a true PC, there are still plenty of bargains.

I noticed plenty of low-cost notebooks made by smaller Taiwanese manufacturers for those who don't care about the brand name.

Probably the best deal to be had was found in 298 Computer Zone. A store at the back of the first floor is selling the Fosa P1400T/350 for $9,980.

This model has a 350 MHz AMD K6-2 microprocessor, 32Mb of SDRAM, 3.2Gb hard drive, 12.1 inch TFT screen and a 24 speed CD-Rom drive.

Alternatively, a 233 MHz version was on sale for $8,980.

Meanwhile, for anyone looking for a desktop PC, several models are available for less than $4,000.

For example, Honrich in 298 Computer Zone will put together a PC with a 333 MHz AMD K6-2 chip, 32 Mb SDRAM, 2.1 GB hard drive and 32 speed CD-Rom drive for $3,800.

However, that does not include the monitor, which will cost an extra $750 for a 14-inch model, or $1,000 for a 15 inch.

Meanwhile, the PC Collection in Star House in Tsim Sha Tsui is selling the IBM Aptiva 2138-EG7 for $8,788, with a 14-inch monitor.

The 2138-EG7 features a 333MHz Pentium II processor, 32Mb SDRAM, 4.0Gb hard drive and 24-speed CD-Rom drive. So, if they can stand the crowds, computer shoppers in Hong Kong surely will find something to meet their needs, or at least tweak their fancy.

Remember, this is the slow period. Storekeepers will no doubt welcome your patronage.