A Pocketful of Miracles

Hand-held books with batteries are one bright spot in what looks like a gloomy year for consumer electronics

The first electronic dictionaries and spell checkers were gizmos that came into being not because they were needed but because they were possible. The electronic brains in early models were so puny and sluggish that people thumbing through real dictionaries often took less time than the computers to find the right words; and sometimes the machines failed to find them at all.

That was five years ago -- an eternity in terms of computer development. Now fast, efficient spell checkers have become standard gear for the well-equipped student -- and for word-game addicts who like to cheat at crosswords or Scrabble....

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