The flying machines now set for take-off

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THE time travellers spend cooped up in an airplane seat can be used in a variety of ways. Some like to retreat into a private world of their own, some spend most of the time asleep. But for a large minority, this is above all the time to snap open the briefcase or handbag and extract the latest must-have travel gadget.

One of the simplest gadgets to put in an appearance recently is the Headphone Splitter share kit from Design Go. Ever spent a flight sitting next to someone who was listening to music on a personal music player? If they're playing something classical you hear the violins and the high trebles like an incoming flight of mosquitos. If they're playing hard rock you hear an annoyingly tinny thumping in your ear.

If you are a stranger to the listener, you have to endure this. If you are related, you can firmly point out to them that its time to put their personal music zone away. The Headphone Splitter offers a third way between suffering in silence and arguing with the culprit. You can share the music, using the spare set of in-ear headphones that comes with the device. This neat little gadget plugs in to the standard headphone jack on whatever mobile music device is on offer and gives you slots for two headphones from the one player. It could catch on with couples who share the same taste in music. Alternatively, it could make for some interesting debates as to which piece of music gets played next...

The Design Go Headphone Splitter Share Kit features the splitter and a set of in-ear headphones, plus one airline jack/adaptor and costs 7.99.

For anyone accustomed to texting using the mobile phone equivalent of a keypad, the standard QWERTY keypad contained in some personal digital assistants (PDAs) might look like a big step forward. However, the PDA pad is not the kind of thing a speed typist would like to tap out a report on. An ingenious solution to this problem is the Pocketop Wireless PDA keyboard, a must-have for any executive who doesn't want to cramp their neighbour on a flight by opening up a full-scale laptop PC.

The Pocketop Keyboard is not a cheap little luxury, coming in at 59.95. But it's wireless, utilising infrared technology - which, of course, is perfectly allowable during flights. It communicates keystrokes with the infrared port available on a wide range of PDAs.

The absence of wires is of course huge in the cramped quarters of business class. The keyboard folds out like an old-fashioned metal cigarette case, providing full keyboard functionality, albeit in a slightly smaller form factor. It is about half the volume of a current standard folding keyboard.

The device is compatible with most Palm OS and PocketPC PDAs, and Pocketop, the manufacturer of the keyboard, is busily crafting new drivers for new devices as they appear.

The good thing about this, of course, is that if you are the kind of executive that retires their old PDA as soon as something better comes along, the keyboard can outlast several generations of PDAs. The claim is that, for a touch typist, the typing feel is of the same quality as the best notebook keyboards. The aim is to turn the Palm or Pocket PC into a fully-fledged mini-laptop.

The dimensions, folded, are 3.38 by 4.68 inches and about half an inch thick. Opened, the board stretches to 9.2 inches and the weight is just 4.2 ounces. Battery life is said to be six months at around two hours use per day at 120 keystrokes a minute. The temperature working range is greater than that which would easily be tolerated by the user, going from -20C to 60C. Personally, anything outside the range of 15C to 30C and I'm suing the airline if we ever make it back home again...

Pockettop Computer Corporation, the manufacturer of the wireless folding keyboard, has been making devices since 1997, with the aim of "propelling users into the next era of mobile computing." Gadget lovers might like to keep an eye on their future offerings in the light of this example.

The two things that tend to perplex most travellers crossing time zones are how to keep track of the time differential between their departure and destination zones, and how keep up with the constant mental arithmetic required to handle monetary transactions in foreign parts.

Naturally enough, we are on prime gadget territory here. The World Time Alarm Clock Calculator has a rotating clamshell design and is compact enough to be the travel item it is so clearly meant to be. Its in-flight status is pretty well no more than that of something to fiddle with as the traveller tries to get his or her mind around life in a different time zone.

The clock displays the world time for 16 cities, with a calendar, month, time and time zone display, and the usual choice of 12 or 24 hour formats. There is a built-in dual alarm function and a calculator with an easy to use exchange rate calculation capability. The price is 14.95.

The Jabra JX10 Designer Bluetooth Headset, created by the Danish design company Jacob Jensen, is a neat piece of design in its own right as well as being one of the smallest and lightest headsets around. It weighs in at under 10 grams (one ounce) and is less than an inch and a half in length.

"The Jabra JX10 lives up to our three main design philosophies that form should follow feelings, the noise should be taken out of technology, and that every product should have a feel of magic about it. When people put on the Jabra JX10 they will feel as though they are putting on a piece of jewellery, not just a Bluetooth headset," says Timothy Jacob Jensen, chief designer, Jacob Jensen Design. With that kind of pedigree, a traveller might wish to take a bow after donning the little marvel.

The point of the exercise though, is simply to provide a headset for mobile devices. In the world outside the plane, which is to say, before take-off and after landing, the headset makes it possible to initiate or terminate mobile voice calls direct from the headset. The digital signal processing capabilities in the headset reduce background noise and ensures the best sound and voice clarity. Automatic volume control adjusts sound to compensate for noisy external environments and scales back the sound when things quieten down around the traveller.

It comes with a desktop charging cradle and carrying pouch and boasts up to six hours operating time, and 200 hours on standby, all for 99.