What: Activity program for ages 3-6. Details: Preschoolers' beloved Maisy the Mouse is the latest character to make the move from books (hers introduce concepts such as numbers and bedtime) to TV screen (a Nickelodeon series) to CD-ROM. And while she doesn't fail in this adaptation, she's no crossover star. There are three minimally interesting rooms to explore and seven activities to master, involving such skills as following directions, memorizing sequences and matching. The program presents useful notions such as categorizing but doesn't encourage much creativity; children are even told what shade to use ("color all the saddles yellow") in the art activity. It isn't very taxing, either; on the most-difficult setting, the rather patronizing narrator--who uses the phrase "How exciting!" too often--asks players to select three red pieces of clothing from a grand total of six items. It's doubtful this program would hold the attention of most 5-year-olds, though it should appeal to younger Maisy fans. The delightfully rendered artwork stays faithful to Lucy Cousins's vibrant Maisy books, and the music is catchy. Maisy, however, does little but squeal an occasional nonsense phrase, and one wishes she were more in-charge and competent and less passively cute. Bottom line: It squeaks by.
-- Elizabeth Chang
Win 95-98, $20
What: Utility to transfer lists of phone numbers from computer to wireless phone. Details: The name and number list is the phone equivalent of VCR programming--a great feature crippled by a tedious interface that many people don't bother to decipher. Pushing teeny number buttons to spell out names and enter phone numbers into a wireless phone is just not my idea of a good time. FoneSync avoids this annoyance by letting you enter phone numbers on your computer, then zap them over to the phone--FoneSync works with phones from Nokia, Ericsson, Panasonic and more--with a serial cable or via infrared beaming. You can also add names and telephone numbers directly from your address-book software, such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer, Lotus Notes and Symantec Act (the desktop software for Palm organizers isn't supported, though). Setup was a snap: Plug the cable into the phone and your computer's serial port, run the software, and in a few minutes you're moving phone numbers. The software is well thought out and simple to use, allowing you to create extra phone lists for special circumstances such as weekend getaways or business trips. Bottom line: If you only auto-dial a few numbers, you don't need this. But if you have to manage more than a dozen, it's a great tool.
-- Daniel Greenberg
Win 95-98, $40 (software only) or $80 (softwareplus cable), http://www.paragonsoftware.com
What: Virtual shutterbug adventure game for Pokemon fans. Details: The new Pokemon game for the Nintendo 64 is an entertaining adventure with an innovative, but simple, premise: Players travel to Pokemon Island and try to take pictures of the popular little creatures in their natural habitat. What makes this challenging is trying to get the best photo; these creatures are camera shy, so players have to use strategy and patience to draw them out. Professor Oak, noted Pokemon expert, shows up throughout the game to judge your pictures and give you points. If you're a promising photographer, he'll also reward you with Pokemon food or other special items to help you along. These items range from Pester Balls, which flush the little guys out of the bushes, to the Poke Flute, which makes them dance. Players collect their photos and put them in a photo album where they can store up to 60 pictures; bring a game cartridge to a participating Blockbuster though Thanksgiving and, for $3, you can print out a sheet of 16 stickers of your favorite pictures. (Rent a movie from Sony's Columbia Pictures subsidiary while you're there, and you will make a great many marketing types very, very happy.) Bottom line: If you've got kids, resistance is probably futile.
-- Tom Ham
Nintendo 64, $50