15 Great Gadgets You Can't Get in the U.S.

You want great gadgets? You have to go outside the U.S.—or to the online gray market&mdashto get the latest tech toys.

As Americans, we think it's our birthright to always have the latest computers, phones and electronic gadgets, but the simple fact of life is that there's a whole world of digital devices out there that are off-limits to us.

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It's ironic in this age of globalization, but it's true: Some of the world's best digital devices stay at home. Regardless of whether the maker is too small for exporting or vendors don't think it will sell overseas, the result is the same: You can't buy it here.

To show you what the world has to offer, we've rounded up our choices for 15 of the coolest (or strangest) bleeding-edge digital devices you can't buy in the U.S. From a germ-proof notebook and super-secret hard drive to do-it-all phones and a variety of environmentally sensitive products, they cover the gamut of today's mobile electronics.

A lighter shade of gray

If you absolutely have to have one of these devices, forget about Best Buy or Circuit City. Your choices are limited: You can either get on a plane with your cash in your pocket or you can try shopping at one of the gray market Web sites that specialize in ignoring niceties such as international borders.

Be careful, however, because if you go the gray market route, your device may not come with local warranty or service.

There's a thriving trade in gray market gadgets that were meant for one country but end up being sold in others. Despite what major manufacturers may say, it's neither illegal nor dangerous to buy from them. Just be careful, because you may not be able to use a device or get it serviced at home.

The big thing to make sure of is that the device works where you live. For a phone, that means a compatible network. For a TV receiver, it needs to conform to your country's national broadcast standards. Plus, you'll need to get a power adapter that works with a 110-volt outlet.

And do you think that it's hard now to get tech support? Try getting a device fixed when you bought it overseas. Although some vendors will include their own warranty and send the device back to its manufacturer if necessary, in most cases you're on your own.

Although tapping into the world trade in gadgets can open up new vistas of technology, there's always the danger of getting stuck with a lemon.

Meanwhile, even if we may not be able to tap into the technologies represented by the gadgets in the following pages, we can certainly take note of them—and hope that they'll be available via American dollars sometime in the near future.

Notebooks

In our increasingly mobile society, notebooks are becoming more and more important. Because of that, you would think that customers in the U.S. have access to everything we could possibly need in notebooks today: big notebooks, small notebooks, thin notebooks, rugged notebooks, expensive notebooks, cheap notebooks and everything in between.

Well, apparently there are more things than are dreamed of in our philosophy or at least, in the U.S. The five interesting machines listed here include notebooks made of cedar wood, notebooks that will protect you from stray germs and others that are just plain classy.

Virus-free computing

Samsung NP-P200

Lots of notebooks come with software to protect against computer viruses, but only Samsung's NP-P200 goes after physical pathogens that can spread disease. You can finally put down that spray can of Lysol—the P200 uses Samsung's Silver Nano technology, developed for its kitchen appliances, to can kill viruses, molds and bacteria on contact.

It won't get rid of the cookie crumbs in your keyboard, but the notebook's Silver Nano coating slowly releases silver ions that wipe out a variety of pathogens by suppressing their respiration. This sterile approach to mobility is available only in Europe.

Handful of computer

MIU HDPC

Ultrasmall computers are all the rage these days, but MIU's HDPC takes the idea a step further. With its 4-in. screen folded over, it's a handheld media player or Web screen, but flip the display up and there's a thumb keyboard for tapping out e-mails and writing short notes.

The HDPC can run Linux, Windows XP or Windows CE, and at 12 ounces it has everything a traveler could want, including GPS, Wi-Fi and up to 60GB of hard drive space. Pricing starts at a reasonable $700, but you'll need to convert your dollars to Korean won.

Little green machine

Fujitsu WoodShell

Fujitsu is putting its notebook where its ecological mouth is. Created for an Italian furniture show, the WoodShell's case is made of heavily grained cedar wood that's been thinned from forests rather than clear-cut.

Underneath this digital work of art is Fujitsu's FMV-BIBLO NX95Y/D notebook, which replaces petroleum-based plastics with polymers made from corn starch to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. To help you avoid scratching its hand-polished finish, WoodShell has a canvas cover with carrying handles. All it needs is a wooden mouse, but that's another story (see Have a ball).

Joy to the world

BenQ Joybook R45

From a distance, it may look like dozens of other mainstream notebooks with a 14-in. screen, but as soon as you pick up the BenQ Joybook R45, you'll notice a big difference. The display lid has a brown soft-pebbled finish that gives the notebook the feel of a leather portfolio.

Under this sophisticated skin is a 2-megapixel camera and BenQ's UltraVivid display that makes colors pop off the screen. Easily the most elegant travel companion around, the Joybook R45 will be sold in China, Taiwan and Russia, but not in the U.S.

The little notebook that could

Airis Kira 740

If the Asus Eee PC and Everex CloudBook have piqued your interest in extra-small, inexpensive notebooks, Airis' Kira 740 will make you want to jump on a plane to France or Spain. The 3-lb. notebook has a 1-GHz Via C7 processor, 7-in. screen, a gigabyte of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. But unlike many other minimalist notebooks that use Linux to cut costs, the 740 has a full version of Windows XP installed. Priced at €300 (about $450), parlez vous bargain?

Mobile phones

Despite the immense popularly of Apple's iPhone, there are still a lot of new handsets coming out on the market and begging for your attention.

Some of them try to take the iPhone's touch technology and do it one better (such as Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1), while others are testing out new technologies and/or new designs in an attempt to come up with the Next Big Communications Thing (such as SoftBank's 920SH Aquos Mobile).

Unfortunately, none of the following five phones are actually being sold in the U.S. And, of course, few of them are actually compatible with current U.S. networks.

The phone that does it all

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Easily the coolest handset on the planet, Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1 is a marvel of miniaturization that delivers on the promise of high-speed wireless networks. It's every bit as slick as an iPhone—the Xperia X1's 3-in. touch screen is the equivalent of the iPhone's multitouch; it can interpret a variety of finger gestures. Slide the screen up and underneath is a tiny keyboard for writing brief notes and entering Web addresses.

At just five ounces and capable of using the latest 3G networks, it puts other smart phones to shame, but at the moment can only be had in Asia and Europe.

High-speed trifecta

Toshiba G450

Three handsets in one, Toshiba's G450 is a wireless modem (it supports the HSDPA protocol for mobile phone data transmission), an MP3 player and—oh, yeah—a phone (both using the HSDPA broadband connection and on a cell network). The unique oval design has three circular elements: the top circle incorporates a bright OLED screen, while the other two split up the traditional phone keypad for the most finger-friendly dialing around.

Although you'll have to use a headset to make a call, the G450 works with the latest HSDPA network technology, delivers three hours of talk time and has room for 160MB of your favorite files.

The G450 sells for €200 (about $300) and—you guessed it—isn't available in the U.S.

Transformer phone

SoftBank 920SH Aquos Mobile

Made by Sharp for the Japanese market, SoftBank's 920SH Aquos Mobile is a 4-ounce handset that when closed, it looks and acts like any other slim phone. But open it and its wide-screen display rotates like a Transformer toy to create the equivalent of a mini-entertainment center.

Its 3.2-in. screen can show VGA images, there's a tuner for watching digital TV in Japan and even a pull-out antenna to help tune in stations. The phone has a bar-code reader and can connect to a variety of online services in Japan.

A soul sensation

Samsung Soul

The rest of the world has something on the U.S.: Samsung's phenomenal Soul slider phone. Not only can this thin wonder tap into the latest HSDPA phone networks for up to 7Mbit/sec. download speeds, but it has a 5-megapixel camera with a shake reduction program so every shot turns out clear and sharp. It offers face recognition as a security method (something that only a few U.S. manufacturers have incorporated into their devices), has room for 15 hours of music onboard and a built-in FM radio.

The Samsung Soul costs €400 (about $600), and at the moment, you'll have to go to France, Germany or the U.K. to get one.

Pocketful of TV

GSmart t600

Tired of watching the same old shows over your phone network? Regardless of whether it's a baseball game, a reality show or a soap opera, Gigabyte Communications' GSmart t600 super-phone can tune in live digital TV broadcasts and display them on its 2.6-in. color screen. Based on the latest Windows Mobile 6 Pro software, the t600 works only on European DVB-T, DVB-H and T-DMB TV networks.

Its phone connects calls over any GSM network, but also has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in. The best part is that during the commercials, you can call in and get your voice messages.

Gadgets and games

There are a multitude of devices out there that can handle, in imaginative and original ways, tasks that technology wasn't able to handle before—or tasks that we didn't even know we wanted done.

Most of these devices have equivalents that are available in the U.S.—they just aren't quite as good. For example, there are camcorders in the U.S. that can video underwater, but Sanyo's Xacti DMX-CA8 does it with 8-megapixel images. GamePark's GP2X F-200 offers portable gaming not too different from U.S. gaming consoles—except that it stores those games on inexpensive SD cards.

And let's face it, who could resist a wooden trackball designed to resemble the planet Jupiter?

A real splash

Sanyo Xacti DMX-CA8

Cameras and water don't usually mix, but Sanyo's Xacti DMX-CA8 digital video camera takes the plunge. It can grab 8-megapixel images (higher than most U.S. waterproof cameras) or high-quality MPEG-4 movies in the rain, snow and even 5 feet underwater.

The device's shape is unusual for a camera, but the 9-ounce handy cam fits comfortably in the hand and has a 2.5-in. preview screen. Its Face Chaser software helps you take the perfect portrait (although I'm not sure how well it works if the subject is wet). The camera has 44MB of built-in memory and includes a slot for SD cards. Available only in Japan, this camera costs about $500.

Game on and on

GamePark GP2X F-200

Nintendo's DS Lite and Sony's PSP are now passé—it's time for GamePark's GP2X F-200. This portable game console combines a 3.5-in. touch screen, an excellent eight-way control pad and a wide variety of games, all in a 10-ounce package.

You can only get it in South Korea, but it's worth the effort because this game machine replaces expensive electronic game cartridges with inexpensive SD cards. It comes with four games loaded and another 19 on a CD, but the best part is that it can run your old Commodore 64 and Atari ST games. The F-200 costs about 177,000 Korean won, or about $170.

TV to go

Buffalo Technology DH-KONE4G/U2DS

By packaging together a USB digital TV tuner and 4GB of flash memory, Buffalo Technology's DH-KONE4G/U2DS can not only tune in your favorite shows on your notebook's screen but record them when you're asleep or doing real work. The tiny device works with PCs and Macs, but only on Japan's TV network. Slightly bigger than a memory key, it has a foldout antenna and can hold up to 20 hours of TV shows. At about ¥16,000 (about $150), it costs much less than a new TV.

Hard drive that keeps a secret

Fujitsu MHZ2 CJ

Fujitsu's MHZ2 CJ hard drive can help keep your notebook's deepest, darkest secrets if it's stolen or lost. That's because the 320GB drive has built-in hardware encryption to perform 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) security. The result is that everything on the disk is scrambled and can only be decoded with the correct encryption key. In an emergency, everything on the drive can be wiped clean in about a second.

With disks that spin at 7,200 rpm, performance for the serial ATA drive is top notch—faster than the 5,400 rpm hardware-encrypted drives available in the U.S. The MHZ2 CJ goes on sale in late May—only in Japan.

Have a ball

Actbrise Jupiter

What's the perfect complement to a cedar notebook?Actbrise's Jupiter trackball is made of ash wood and reproduces the planet's Great Red Spot in the sphere's grain.

Rather than moving the device around on the desk, the Jupiter provides a new way of controlling the computer's cursor by holding it in your palm and pointing to where the cursor should go. There are buttons flush with the surface and a matching stand to keep the ball from rolling away. At ¥14,000 (about $135), it's not cheap, but the company also sells less-expensive stainless steel and rhinestone-covered versions.

This story, "15 Great Gadgets You Can't Get in the U.S." was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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