Panasonic's e-wear

You might suppose Minerva & the Bell Ringers was a 1960s girl group, but it's actually a mechanical clock located outdoors in New York City's Herald Square. On the hour, pivoting statues strike a bell up to 12 times, temporarily dislodging a pigeon or two. A still camera is inadequate for capturing the sound and motion. If I were a tourist, I might reach for a camcorder. But since I walk past Minerva daily while hurrying to work, I'm not about to be weighed down by one. Still, it would be fun to show off this oddity to friends across the country.

I recently e-mailed them a clip (image at right) of the 9 a.m. ringing that I'd recorded using Panasonic's SV-AV10, a digital A/V recorder ($450) that's also a music player, voice recorder, and camera with a fold-out LCD viewscreen. Weighing a mere 41/2 ounces, this is a multipurpose recorder/ player that I don't have to think twice about tossing in my shoulder bag. Alternatively, you can flaunt it on its reflective neck strap, coddle it in its felt pouch, or - since it's smaller than a pack of cigarettes - slip it into any pocket.

There's also the "Wow!" factor. Smaller than many cameras, the 31/2 x 2 x 11/8-inch AV10 (shown considerably larger than life size above) does so much more. Able to fit in the palm of my hand, it is designed with a minimum of buttons and ports and a maximum of curves and shiny surfaces. Pointed to shoot, the AV10 sports a 1/4-inch image sensor, a microphone, and a flash. On the back are just three buttons: power/menu, mode/volume, and a small jog lever that moves up and down. On top is a recording start/stop button and a card slot, and on the bottom are an earphone jack and a DC socket. There's no speaker, but earphones are included. The 2-inch viewscreen opens out and rotates up to 270° so you can position it for the best view.

Since the AV10 has no internal storage, it stores everything on a removable SD flash-memory card, which is about the size of two Scrabble tiles or one of those new film mints. An extra 64-megabyte (MB) card from Panasonic is $70. The company expected to have two higher-capacity cards available this spring - 256 MB for $280 and 512 MB for $550. There are also 16-, 32-, and 128-MB versions.