PepperPad 3: Will it catch on this time?

Cute and multifunctional, but it could easily succumb to the same problems that befell its predecessor.

When I was testing out the new PepperPad 3 at the DigitalLife trade show in New York City last week, it reminded me of something that might have appeared in 1980s science fiction about the 21st century. You see, by the '80s they kind of had an idea of where the whole "personal computer" thing was going, but they still seemed to have a penchant for flat, touch-screen machines that looked like blown-up Game Boys. (Ever read "Ender's Game"?)

The pink PepperPad 3

Such is the Linux-based PepperPad 3, the latest offering from Pepper Computer. It's marketed as a "handheld web computer," or in other words, something that's meant to be larger and more functional than a PDA--minus the cell phone. Indeed, the 2.2-pound PepperPad 3 has a 7-inch touch screen and a simple tabbed interface that makes the programs and icons readily visible. It's equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And it has a 20GB hard drive, which is an improvement over your average BlackBerry. Preinstalled software is oriented toward consumer media functions like streaming radio, instant messaging, games, photo sharing and e-books. There's also a built-in remote control, so you can use your PepperPad for all the usual home-entertainment functions: adjusting the volume on your stereo, muting commercials or quickly switching off that embarrassing "SpongeBob Squarepants" episode.

Basically, this little machine puts a lot at your fingertips. And it comes in three colors: black, white and pink.

But there are caveats, as usual. The original PepperPad suffered from complaints about its high price and low battery life, which led PC Magazine to name it one of the worst gadgets of 2005. And even though I was able to play with the new model for only a few minutes, I could already see some drawbacks. The QWERTY keypad is positioned on both sides of the screen; consequently most people will have to get used to its format. For a device that's meant to be used without a mouse, the trackpad seems pretty weak. And it's just under a foot long and an inch thick: not exactly pocket material.

The PepperPad 3 isn't on the market yet, but links for preordering the $699.99 device are available on Pepper Computer's Web site.

Photo: Caroline McCarthy/CNET News.com

 

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