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Range of new tools saves time, cuts costs

Special to The Globe and Mail

A cellular telephone that doubles as a digital camera is boosting productivity at Mobile Diagnostix Inc., helping employees at the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based company spend more time promoting and selling its software products.

The Nokia 3650 imaging telephone, which enables users to shoot photos and videos, send and receive e-mail, surf the Net and organize contacts and appointments, is among a host of hot new tools helping Canada's small businesses save time, cut costs and improve their bottom lines.

"Running a start-up is all about landing customers and being profitable. Every minute of every day needs to be spent on that," says Mobile Diagnostix chief executive officer Ian Collins.

In addition to making calls, employees can also use the imaging phone to photograph diagrams and products displayed at trade shows, as well as notes, drawings and business plans created on white boards during meetings at the 10-employee company's office.

Photos are shot through a lens on the back of the phone and can be viewed on 2.5-inch by 2.5-inch screens on the front.

In a matter of seconds, the shots can be e-mailed wirelessly to staff and the firm's sales agents in Texas and Toronto. Once recipients receive the photos, they can be viewed on their computer screens or printed on a colour printer.

Mr. Collins' company purchased the camera phone for $300 (U.S.) on eBay earlier this year. The model will actually be available in Canadian stores this summer for $499 (Canadian), says Yuri Rebello, director of engineering for Nokia Canada in Ajax, Ont.

The phone-camera combo is just one of several tools that have recently come to market. Here's a small sampling of others:

Canon i70 portable printer: Launched in March, it's aimed at road warriors who need quality printing away from the office. The size of a large calculator, it weighs just four pounds and can print 8-1/2 x 11-inch documents at a rate of 13 pages per minute (ppm) in black and white and nine ppm in colour. It also hooks directly to a Canon digital camera to print 4 x 6-inch borderless photographs "that look more like a photograph than something that came out of printer," says Jerry Hosier, senior manager of national accounts for Canon Canada Inc. "It may be small but it doesn't sacrifice speed or quality." The i70 printer retails for $399.

Liquid crystal display TV/computer monitor: When installed in place of a computer monitor, this flat-panel screen offers a "picture-in-picture" function. While doing work, such as writing memos or creating spreadsheets on their computer, users can also monitor stock prices, keep tabs on images picked up by their company's surveillance cameras or even watch sports in a three-inch by two-inch picture in the top left hand corner of the screen.

Manufactured by LG Electronics Canada, it is available in 15-, 17-, 23- and 30-inch sizes for $1,700 to $7,000, says Raymond Platt, the company's digital resources manager.

Xerox Phaser 8200 solid-ink colour printer: This desktop printer is designed for offices of two to five people where printing involves small jobs.

Installation takes two minutes thanks to software that self-installs via CD; ink is installed in solid blocks of individual colours, eliminating the need to throw away an entire printer cartridge when one colour is used up, as is the case with inkjet printers.

If the printer is out of paper or needs ink, a message and directions to correct the problem are sent directly to the user's computer screen.

Colour printing costs about 12 cents a page, about half the cost of inkjet printing, says Jack Fanning, director of product marketing for printers at Xerox Office Group in Wilsonville, Ore. The Phaser 8200 prints 19 pages a minute in colour and retails for $2,699.

"Our goal is to make the printer as invisible as possible in an office setting," Mr. Fanning says.

Tungsten W handheld: This wireless integrated phone and e-mail device is aimed at small business operators who demand to be tapped into their enterprises around the clock, says Michael Moskowitz, president and general manager of Palm Canada Inc. in Toronto. Launched in late April, it enables users to make and take phone calls, send and receive e-mail and browse the Web in colour in their area of cell coverage.

It's equipped with a four-centimetre by four-centimetre screen, 16 megabytes of expandable memory, a built-in keyboard for easy data entry and a five-way joystick that makes it easy to find information or navigate applications with one hand. It comes with a hands-free headset and retails for $824.

© The Globe and Mail

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