Übergadgets are go!

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THE age of the übergadget is about to dawn. Within months, well-heeled consumers will have the option to throw away their existing phones, cameras and MP3 players for single devices that promise to do all those jobs, and do them well.

Electronics giants Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung will deliver rival bergadgets to the UK market early next year in the first skirmish of a technology war that is set to rage for years.

The machines will offer high-resolution still and video cameras, high-capacity digital music playback, the latest mobile phone technology and personal organiser functions.

Remarkably, the bergadgets are little bigger than existing mobile phones. The price tags, however, are sizeable: 450 for the Sony Ericsson and about 400 for the Nokia. But the manufacturers believe consumers will be prepared to stump up the cash in return for the sheer convenience of carrying a single device, and the opportunity to throw half a dozen recharging leads in the bin.

Last week, Microsoft revealed its rival to the Apple iPod digital music player. Its Zune will allow songs to be shared wirelessly between players.

However, some technology experts believe this battle is little more than a sideshow on the road to "convergence", the industry term for a single gadget that takes care of every aspect of consumer electronics.

The device getting most attention is the new Nokia N95, which combines a phone, a 500-song MP3-player, handheld computer, DVD-quality video camera, GPS navigator and five-megapixel still camera.

Due to launch "early next year" and costing up to 400, the N95 is described by Nokia as a "multimedia computer".

It will be up against the Sony Ericsson P990i, which includes a miniature keyboard, high-quality still camera, two-gigabyte music player, radio and e-mail editor. While it does not include a GPS device, it does have a business card scanner.

South Korean giant Samsung will shortly launch its SCH-B570, which includes an up to 2,000-song digital music player, GPS, a two-megapixel camera, personal organiser, internet connection and DVD-quality video playback which can be plugged into a TV. It also has an alarm that can be placed in snooze mode with a shake.

Perhaps fearful of missing out on the convergence market, Apple itself is planning a combined phone and MP3-player, dubbed the iPhone, to be released early next year.

Brian Baglow, ceo of technology and entertainment marketing firm Indoctrimat, said: "The N95 from Nokia is a very major development in getting to a convergence device. About 12 months ago we were talking about it, but the problem with the devices which have been around was that you felt you were compromising on quality. It's not just Nokia - the new Sonys look promising too."

But other technology pundits believe many consumers will be wary of the new devices, fearing that more functions will mean more fiddling.

Joe Svetlik, a writer with the technology magazine T3, said: "Everyone is looking forward to the N95, but the big question will be how easy it is to use. Apple was not the first in the MP3 player market, but it dominated it by making it simple to use. The more functions a device is capable of, the more complex it risks being."

Chris Steven, a reviewer with the online technology news website Cnet.co.uk, also warned that consumers might be wary of missing calls because they had run their battery down while listening to music.