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New watch is really a wrist computer

I’m Watch

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The I’m Watch.

$329 to $14,999 at www.imwatch.it

When you have a cellphone, you can live without a wristwatch, right? The oddly named Italian company I’m begs to differ. At the Consumer Electronics Show, it displayed a new “smart watch’’ that interacts with your phone. The I’m device is a wrist-mounted speakerphone that also displays your e-mails and SMS text messages, plays music and video, and hooks you up to Twitter and Facebook.

Basically, it’s a wrist computer, running its own version of Google Inc.’s Android operating system. It will work with other brands of smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone, BlackBerrys, and Windows Phone 7 devices. The watch connects to the Internet through your smartphone; you just hook it up through a wireless Bluetooth connection.

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The I’m’s big, bright touchscreen gives you easy control of apps and features. But strapped to your wrist, the I’m is a chunky beast. Maybe some extra bling will help. For just under 15 grand, I’m makes a version cased in white gold and encrusted with diamonds. If you can afford a watch like this, you already know what time it is - time to retire to Tahiti.

Grooveshark Bluetooth Internet Radio Car Kit by Livio Radio

$119.99 for Apple iPhone; $99.99 for Android devices at www.livioradio.com.

Just as most cars don’t have a collision-avoidance system, many of us lack access to satellite radio, with its wonderfully diverse listening choices. But there are millions of options on the Internet, and Livio Radio makes it easier to tune in from any vehicle.

The car kit plugs into a cigarette lighter jack. It includes a Bluetooth chip so you can connect wirelessly to your smartphone and an FM radio transmitter to link to the car’s audio system. A free app delivers streaming music from Grooveshark, a Pandora-like service that plays random selections from your favorite genres; jazz, classical, rock, whatever. Your phone’s 3G data service delivers the tunes, feeds them to the car kit via Bluetooth, which pumps out an FM broadcast to the car radio. You can also listen to other streaming audio services, or play tunes stored in the phone’s memory.

The setup process had a confusing, Rube Goldberg quality, and I had trouble getting it to work at first. But it eventually all came together. No more tuning in the same-old, same-old on the morning commute. Even satellite radio can’t match the sheer variety your smartphone can deliver. But be careful if you don’t have an unlimited data plan. Internet audio can be awfully addictive.

iOnRoad driving safety app for Android smartphones.

iOnRoad driving safety app for Android smartphones

Free at Android Market; a version for Apple’s iPhone is under development

Just as the federal government considers a ban on cellphone use by drivers, here comes a remarkable software app from Israel that turns Android smartphones into potential lifesavers.

Some state-of-the-art cars have radar in the front bumper, to warn the driver when he’s getting too close to the car ahead. This does the same thing using a smartphone’s GPS location chip and digital camera. You just need a mounting bracket to hold the phone in front of the car’s windshield.

GPS calculates your car’s forward speed, displaying it on the phone’s videoscreen. At the same time, the phone’s camera scans the road ahead. The iOnRoad app analyzes this image to estimate the distance between you and the car directly in front of you. It ignores cars that are a safe distance ahead, but flashes warnings as you catch up to a vehicle. Get too close, and you’ll hear a loud alarm.

I never got close enough to trigger a red alert; I’m too cautious a driver. Indeed, I think iOnRoad needs to be recalibrated. It let me get too close for comfort before issuing a warning. Still, the software works, and even turns safe driving into a game by awarding points for each second you drive without tailgating.

An app like this could avert thousands of accidents, and even some deaths. Maybe we should ban people from driving without a smartphone, as long as it has an app like this.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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