For Some Cooks, Small-Screen Gadgets Are This Year's Big Gift

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

'Tis the season when folks who like to give cookbooks might opt for hand-held PDAs (personal digital assistants) instead, as the small-screen gadgets seem to be a kitchen gift trend. Recipes are delivered step by step via memory-card videos or photo slide shows, often sold separately. That kind of instruction makes these devices attractive for beginner cooks.

Photoco Inc.'s product is the miBook, which has, at least for now, partnered exclusively with Food Network to draw culinary material from shows hosted by Rachael Ray and Robin Miller. (Other subject categories are available.) At seven inches, its screen is larger than, say, the Personal Cooking Trainer for Nintendo DS. At $130, miBook and its cards (about $20) are in the same price ballpark as the Nintendo. The miBook player, like the DS, also can be used as a personal photo gallery and music player, although miBook's sound quality is better suited to the spoken word.

We checked out two of miBook's seven culinary titles: "Quick and Easy Meals" and "Healthy Cooking for Kids." Features we liked included its clear narration, variety of recipes (1,050), compact remote control, pull-out stand and ability to upload files from a Mac. The quick-meal recipes were slightly less generic than DS recipes we had seen; some of the food for kids was meant to be made by kids, which was nice.

But there were things we'd like to see improved in the next iteration of culinary miBook titles: a better match of visuals to audio, especially for techniques where moving pictures can make a difference (showing how to fillet a fish as opposed to placing things in a blender); identifying specific recipe sources; and larger keypads for "ESC" and "SEL."

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

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