New Home Gadgets for the New Year

Whether your New Year's resolution is to keep a cleaner house or stay better connected to family and friends, hi-tech helpers will make sure you stay on track.

From providing extra help around the house to more affordable entertainment, these gadgets promise to get your new year off to a good start:

Plant Doctor Helps Your Garden Grow

Who says you need a green thumb to make your garden grow? The Easy Bloom Plant Sensor takes the guesswork out of planning and maintaining a perfect garden.

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The device, which looks like a tall, thin plastic flower, can also help diagnose why a plant is not doing well or how much water is needed in a certain area. So if your roses suffer from root rot or your Christmas cactus isn't blooming in that kitchen window, you'll soon find out why.

You plant the sensor anywhere in your yard where you would like to grow a plant, and let it soak up the environmental data -- soil moisture, sunlight, drainage -- over a 24-hour period. Then pull it apart and plug the USB end into your computer's USB port (I'd probably clean it off first) where the sensor data is uploaded to the EasyBloom Web site.

Soon, a list of potential flowers, shrubs and trees blossoms before your eyes. You can narrow the list by specifying plant height, desired bloom season and other features.

If you set the sensor to "monitor" mode and leave it near a troubled plant, it will make recommendations for what might be wrong with the plant and ways to fix it. Water mode tells you if a location is getting the right amount of water, or needs more, for happier plants.

The EasyBloom Web site currently has a database of 5,000 plants and is compatible with Windows Vista/XP and Mac OS 10.5 (effective Jan. 9).

Your Picture Frame Is Ringing!

For nontech savvy relatives who are just aching to see up-to-date pictures of the family, consider buying them the T-Mobile Cameo digital picture frame.

The frame itself is a 7-inch 720×480 LCD display made by Parrot. It has all the usual trappings of a digital picture frame, including an SD memory card slot and a mini-USB port, and it can also receive MMS messages. That means you can e-mail or text message photos captured on a mobile phone directly to the frame because it has its own cell phone number. Frames are available at T-Mobile stores for $99.

The service, also provided by T-Mobile, will cost $10 per month for unlimited messaging. Anyone from anywhere on any cell phone plan can send pictures to the phone number of the Cameo frame.

The important thing is to make sure the T-Mobile service works well in the area of the person who will be using the frame. The best way to do this, if the person isn't already using T-Mobile cell service, is to buy the frame and try out the service. Of course, if you decide to cancel the monthly plan, you can still put images onto the frame using the memory card or via USB.

Bonding With the 'Bot

About the size of a serving platter, the Roomba by iRobot is a self-propelled, computer-controlled vacuum cleaner. It is as helpful a household robot as the Jetson's Rosie, with none of the snarky back talk.

After a 2002 product launch, the third-generation models on the market this year not only clean a room on their own but can also be told which rooms not to clean.

When finished cleaning and in need of a charge, the new models find their way home to a docking station, where they no doubt dream of electric dust bunnies.

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