Tiny Toys For Big Kids

Once you're past childhood Christmases, it's no surprise to find that big things can come in small packages. But this holiday, even the most sophisticated eyes may widen to see how tiny a big gift can be. Combining miniature electronics and ingenious design, some minute electronics items can make a sizable impression.

Think small, and you think Minox. Its cameras, such as the 6-ounce full-frame 35mm ml model and the 2-ounce cigarette-length 11mm spy snapper familiar from James Bond films may seem almost toylike in your hand. But the quality of their lenses, automatic exposure systems, high-speed shutters, and workmanship warrants prices of $400 to $650 -- or, for real Santas, $4,500 to $8,000 for limited edition models in sterling silver or platinum. And now, the German company has something other than cameras to wow you. It packed a crystal-clear eight-power telescope into a lightweight (2 ounces) rectangular case that's barely a half-inch thick with a surface smaller than a playing card. You hold the T8 parallel to your face and peer through a tiny window in one corner. Adjust a focusing wheel, and an internal system of mirrors and lenses makes distant scenes jump eight times closer. At camera dealers, it's under $350.

If you regularly lug a laptop computer, cellular phone, and a Sharp Wizard or similar electronic organizer, adding one item more can be the straw that breaks the strap of your carry-on bag. But these days a recorder is practically a necessity, so the smaller the better. At barely 312 ounces, Sony's $320 Pressman model is hard to beat in the mini category. It's about 234 inches square. With its auto-reverse feature, you can record a two-hour meeting on a standard micro-cassette. Just introduced, Sony's NT-1 recorder is a fraction larger in size, but considerably heftier in price -- near $1,000. That's justified by state-of-the-art digital recording. On a two-hour cassette that could fit on a postage stamp, you can play back a heated boardroom discussion and distinguish each voice and angry word.

SHAVE, TAPE, LISTEN. Sanyo's bid to fill that last sliver of empty space in briefcase or pocket is the SV-P700 electric shaver. It's great for any man who has ever tried to freshen up in an airliner's restroom with a throwaway razor and watery liquid soap. Virtually weightless and under $70, the shaver is about the size of a stack of credit cards and runs 40 minutes on a single AA battery.

For the moment, Canon lays claim to the "world's smallest and lightest" camcorder, the $1,799 8mm UC1, with a color viewfinder. The camcorder weighs just 1.15 pounds and comes with a wireless remote control for playback functions. About 4 ounces heavier, Sony's $1,600 monochrome-viewfinder CCD-TR200 model comes in a close second.

Miniaturization engineers have surprises, too, for audiophiles who think stereo means a four-foot-high stack of components with loudspeakers as big as boxcars. Now, entire systems fit on two or three feet of bookshelf space.

Atop a tuner, Aiwa's MiniMax NSX-350 boasts a foot-square cd player. The unit, said to be the industry's smallest, has a three-disc changer that can be programmed to play tracks on any cd in any order. There's a dual cassette deck plus an equalizer and 30-watts-per-channel amp that feeds to the magnetically shielded speakers on either side. And, for singalong adherents, a "fader" button silences vocals on cds and cassettes. That lets you sing, karaoke-style, to the orchestration. Listed at $550, it costs $100 or so less at discounters. The system is undersize, but it doesn't qualify as a stocking stuffer -- unless Bigfoot is on your Christmas list.

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