Catching Up To Dick Tracy

New watches let you snap pictures and check e-mail

Psst. Wanna buy a watch? Check out these new ones. They're big and clunky, and decidedly geeky in a nerd-chic sort of way. But they do oh-so-much more than just tell the time. Casio Computer (CSIOY) is the clear leader in packaging technology so that it fits--sometimes too conspicuously--around your wrist, but other companies are catching up fast. Here's a little guide to wrist gizmos that can:

-- Check your little black book unobtrusively. Casio's PC Unite ($105) synchronizes with popular organizers to store up to six phone numbers and one e-mail address for up to 100 contacts. The built-in infrared port lets you swap such personal info as phone numbers and short profiles with like-minded strangers.

-- Tell you where you are. Casio's GPS Satellite NAVI ($500) uses data from up to 12 global-positioning system satellites to figure out your exact latitude and longitude. It keeps track of where you've been, plotting your progress on the screen to help you retrace your route should you lose your way sailing or hiking. It comes with a nifty cradle that both lets you recharge the battery and link the watch to your computer for importing maps and route plans.

-- Make sure you never miss a beat. Heart-rate monitors strap around your rib cage and continuously transmit to a wristwatch receiver. Polar's latest, the S210 ($200) will coach you through your five favorite workouts.

-- Check your financial health. The new Timex Internet Messenger ($99, due in April) is a state-of-the-art pager watch that can receive auction alerts from eBay or short e-mails from your broker, for example, as well as the usual stock quotes and sports scores that you've picked in advance.

-- Let you spy on your friends. Bond, James Bond, would have loved Casio's Wrist Camera ($200). Sure, the stamp-size pictures are black and white and blurry, but they're fun enough to have developed a cult following. The watch will beam your snapshots to similarly outfitted friends, or use the optional $50 infrared PC adapter to upload them to a computer.

There are many other examples, including models that take your blood pressure or change the channel on your TV. What no one has come up with yet, though, is a practical copy of the fanciful Dick Tracy watch that impressed us as kids, the two-way wrist radio. Several companies, including Motorola (MOT) and Samsung (SSNHY), promise to have that one--the mobile-phone watch--on the market this year.

Stay tuned.

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