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Keeping up with consumer trends

Intel wants us to call them ‘nettops'. But this is the company that also thinks a low-cost mini laptop should be called a ‘netbook' - and we do wonder whether that will catch on...

Whatever you want to call them, we're seeing a trend emerge toward compact desktop PCs, which require little desk space, little money to buy and even less cash to run. And mini-laptop trendsetter Asus is right in there with its Eee Box, cleverly trading on the triple-E name that is synonymous with lightweight and affordable notebooks.

Dell, meanwhile, made its name offering good-value PCs, laptops and peripherals for price-conscious buyers. It's no surprise that it has also developed a compact desktop PC, although it has pitched it a little further upstream in price and performance. Read our reviews of the tempting new Asus Eee Box and Dell Studio Hybrid systems.

The iPhone is the mobile du jour, with consumers' already healthy interest accelerating since the 3G model debuted this summer - and now it's to be sold in the UK without a monthly contract. Indeed, there's a buzz around all kinds of smartphone. Until Apple unveiled its intuitive user interface, the choice lay between phones using BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Symbian operating systems (OSes).

Worldwide, it's the Symbian OS, as found on Nokia, Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson handsets, that has the hold, with a combined 65 percent market share at the end of 2007. Windows Mobile and BlackBerry lag behind at 12 and 11 percent respectively. But it's the latter two platforms, along with the iPhone OS, that are seen on most upmarket handsets, offering all the features that a business user needs. This month, we take a look at recent contenders in the shape of the BlackBerry Bold, HTC Touch Diamond and HP iPaq 914.

While none can touch the iPhone's ease of use, some people are attracted by, for example, the hard keys of a qwerty keypad over a touchscreen-only interface, or the ability to run office word-processing and spreadsheet apps from their handset.

One thing's for sure: if a manufacturer is to keep consumer interest at all levels of the market, it will need to focus on everyday ease of use more than simple headline-grabbing feature lists.

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