- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

Either somebody slipped something hallucinogenic into my coffee or you truly can watch movies on your wristwatch, though I’m not sure why one would want to.

From the Chinese firm Algo comes a gadget called the Algo F029, which will play movies on the screen of a watch. It will also store e-books. Add an earphone and you can listen to MP3 music. With a gigabyte of storage, it costs a tad under $200.

Some numbers and specs, so you won’t think I’m making this up: the Algo has a 1.3 inch LED screen good for 26,000 colors and looks like a plastic watch intended for children, which I suspect it is. It has track skip controls, mini-USB port, pause/play buttons, volume controls, a microphone for recording sound, and it can store photos.

And, yes, it does tell the time. A reviewer for the Register (theregister.co.uk), the British computer site, says that the sound quality is acceptable with IPod-like earphones. He also discovered that the manual is available only in Chinese, but that will doubtless change.

While it may not be the most practical gadget on the block, it is certainly a marvel of miniaturization. As with any small electronic device, a problem is working the tiny controls with large human fingers: The limits of miniaturization have little to do with technology and everything to do with the difficulty of poking at buttons the size of a grain of rice.

It sounds no more difficult to use than any other Personal Media Player. Select the Music icon, for example, and you’re presented with a file listing — use the track-skip buttons to find the one you want and press play a second time.

Now, with the playback interface showing, pressing and holding the menu key calls up a list of possible selections. All you need is a 190 IQ and three hands.

With fingers the size of toothpicks.

So why am I charmed? People my age grew up in the fifties, when there was no Internet. Really. We communicated with smoke signals and found dinosaurs browsing in the yard in the morning.

The technological Holy Grail for a 7-year-old was Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio, which we knew was impossible. The idea of being able to watch Godzilla eating Tokyo on your wrist while sitting in a tree house — Wow!

Apart from being an immensely cute gadget, the F029 is an example of the headlong rush of electronics toward more power in less space. You get used to the idea that every year computers will be four times as fast with larger hard disks and so on.

Stand back a little, and it’s nuts. Barely over 25 years ago, when the first personal computers appeared that amounted to anything, 64 kilobytes of RAM was something you bragged about. Today a gigabyte fits in a watch, along with a color screen and all the circuitry needed to play music and video. In 1980, the National Security Agency would have given half its annual budget for such a thing.

At this point memory chips have gotten so cheap and hold so much that storage is almost unlimited. Sure, a movie in the F029 is tremendously compressed, but doing it at all is astonishing if you think about it.

Who will buy the F029? The well-off parents of lucky children, doubtless, and transistor-struck geeks.

Let’s hope they don’t use them while driving.

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