The guilt-free guide to saving up for this year's hottest products

Geithner the treasury secretary has his TARP, or Troubled Asset Relief Program, for the banks. For the people, Phil the Gadget Guy has his SEMFAG, or Save Every Month For A Gadget.

I devised this plan after returning from January's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. To avoid the pain of splurging on 2009's hottest gadgets when they're released this summer and fall, my SEMFAG suggests that you save a portion of your hard-earned gelt every month. That way, when the products previewed at CES hit store shelves, you can spend without guilt.

Netbooks were a highlight of this year's CES. A netbook is a computer larger than a UMC (ultra mobile computer) and smaller than a notebook. Netbook prices range from $260 for Eee PC's 2G up to $900 for Sony's VAIO P.

A company named EMTEC (with offices in Lewis Center) stood out from the netbook pack with their announcement of the Gdium Liberty 1000 (expected to cost under $400; gdium.com).

At 9.8 by 7.2 by 1.25 inches and 2.6 pounds, it's highly mobile. It has a 10-inch screen, Wi-Fi and a webcam, and its keyboard feels almost full size. It comes with an open source operating system and 50 applications.

In place of a typical hard drive, the Gdium has a "G-Key," a bootable USB key on which the operating system, applications and data are stored. The G-Key can plug into any other Gdium to give you access to your complete desktop, or the USB port of any computer to give you access to your documents.

It's back! Polaroid instant photography, that is.

The company was once known for the self-developing film that produced prints in under 60 seconds. Digital photography eliminated the need for Polaroid cameras and the company stopped making their film a year ago. But Polaroid is back with their 10-ounce PoGo Instant Digital Camera ($200; polaroid.com/pogo), a seven-megapixel camera/printer in one boxy-looking gadget.

The printer uses Zink technology (heat applied to special paper produces full-color glossy photos). The camera has a four-time digital zoom lens and a three-inch LCD on its back. Your pictures can be saved on a SD card or printed from the camera onto two-by-three-inch prints in under a minute.

You're on the leading edge if you have AT&T's U-verse TV service in your home. You'll be on the bleeding edge if you sign up for AT&T's CruiseCast satellite TV service for your car ($1,299 for the equipment and a $28 monthly subscription fee; cruisecast.com).

For that price you get 22 TV channels and 20 radio channels. Three minutes of programming automatically buffers in the system to prevent trees, tunnels and tall buildings from interrupting your viewing as you travel. CruiseCast's antenna can lock onto its TV signal during turns and at driving speeds up to 200 mph.

If you want to try this service before buying it, Avis and Budget expect to rent CruiseCast-enabled autos for $9 a day through select rental locations.

Speaking of video on the go, Panasonic, the first company to manufacture a portable DVD player, will offer the world's first portable Blu-ray Disc player (Model DMP-B15) at the start of summer (cost TBD).

This gadget has a nine-inch LCD screen and includes internet accessibility to select entertainment websites like Amazon.com Video On Demand. The battery is expected to last three hours between charges. It has an optional headrest mounting kit to be used in the car.

Sony showcased "green" TVs at CES with their ecology-friendly Eco Bravia VE5-series (cost TBD). These HDTV LCD sets will be available in 52-, 46- and 40-inch screen sizes.

They are the first to feature Sony's micro-tubular Hot Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (HCFL), which reduces power consumption by 40 percent compared to other TVs. They also have "presence" sensors that can turn off the set's picture in five, 30 or 60 minutes if no one is within 12 feet or an 80-degree angle of the TV. When the gadget senses someone back in the room, it immediately comes back to life.

A light sensor adjusts the TV's backlight to your room's ambient light level. The Eco Bravia also has a zero-watt standby switch you can flip whenever you're out of the house.

For a power saver of another type, Powermat will be launching a line of virtually wireless charging products (cost TBD). Using magnetic induction to charge your gadgets (rather than electricity), Powermat only consumes the electricity of one charger as it recharges up to six Powermat-enabled gadgets placed on the mat simultaneously. Devices become Powermat-enabled when put in custom cases, charging docks or attached to a special dongle. Powermats come in five styles and sizes to accommodate your needs. Your gadgets recharge at the same (or faster) speeds than the charger that came with your device.

Got a gadget question or a high-tech toy to recommend? E-mail gspot@columbusalive.com



2010 3D A first look at next year's must-have gadgets

If your budget and my SEMFAG program don't work for you this year, some truly remarkable gadgets are also due in 2010 or later.

Take Powermat, for example. Their aspirations go far beyond charging your handheld devices. Their power-transfer technology based on magnetic induction can be embedded in walls and countertops for some amazing results, which were demoed at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show.

Imagine hanging a picture on the wall, then hanging a light above it that gets it electricity directly (and wirelessly) from a very thin Powermat strip in the wall.

The folks at Powermat also demonstrated a specially modified, wireless KitchenAid mixer. It was placed on a countertop embedded with Powermat technology and worked at full mixing power. Water was spilled around the mixer without causing any ill effects or electrical fires.

Power without plugs is one company's dream; three-dimensional TV without having to wear goofy glasses is another company's quest.

Samsung featured a prototype 52-inch 3D HDTV that was viewable without special glasses. This gadget uses an autostereoscopic display to give the illusion of depth. The catch is that you have to view the TV from one of nine particular points in the room to see the 3D effect. Being in the wrong place gives you nothing but a blurry picture.

If 3D TV isn't your cup of tea, how about a cell phone that doubles as an LCD video projector? Texas Instruments and Samsung recently unveiled just such a product that they say can project images and videos larger than 50 inches. While this gadget will be selling in Korea and Europe later this year, don't expect to see it on our shores until 2010 or later.